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Ghourmand Vale (3.5 campaign)



PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 11
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 11
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 11
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 11​

NPC Roster:
Orchid, elf druid 11​

Game Session Date: 24 January 2024

- - -

The meeting with Viscount Torl went well - ashamed of the poor impression the citizens of Chendl behind the Ministry of the Father scam had given to Furyondy as a whole, he not only gave the five heroes the 1,000 pieces of gold each he had offered for their investigations into the cult, but he sweetened the pot with the addition of five gemstones, each valued at 500 pieces of gold. That was more or less a bribe to keep quiet about the details of how far the cult had infiltrated into the Church of Zilchus and how many of the farmers had been swindled, but the heroes didn't mind; the extra money would be put to good use and they had no real inclination to spread the word about how bad the situation in Chendl and its surrounding environs had gotten in any case.

Now they were returning to Ghourmand Vale, but not by the way they had come - they'd gone northeast into Furyondy, then west to get to Chendl; now they were headed more or less straight south to return home. They were making their way not along roads but through forest paths, which had a tendency to wind this way and that rather than remain straight for any length of time. But with a nature-loving druid among their number, and by sending Ambrose out ahead to make sure they were headed the way they wanted to go, the group was making decent time through the lightly wooded forest.

The grackle generally flew just out of the range of vision of his master, Alistair, then perched on a tree limb until the rest of the group caught up to him. Then he'd fly off again and the process would be repeated countless times throughout the day. This method also served the purpose of letting the innocuous bird scout out the way ahead for danger, for if Ambrose saw anything troubling he'd fly to his master's shoulder and report his discoveries.

Such was the situation in the late afternoon of their third day of travel. The group was several hours north of Littleberg, the next town of decent size they'd be hitting on their travels - probably tomorrow morning, at the rate they were going. Alistair sensed his familiar's nervousness over the mental link they shared, and then the grackle returned to report what he'd seen. "Panthers," he told Alistair. "Panthers, with tentacles." Alistair, from his talks among the other sorcerers and wizards back at the Vale, knew these to be displacer beasts - six-legged panthers with a set of horn-ridged tentacles growing from their shoulders. And they had an odd trait: they were able to send an image of themselves off to one side, so they were never exactly where they seemed to be. Chaevaris, the sorcerer knew, would have a difficult time shooting such a creature, who wasn't where it appeared to be. (Alistair figured he'd just use ranged spells, like cone of cold, to strike them wherever they happened to be.)

"How many?" he asked Ambrose.

"At least four or five," Ambrose replied. "And one was much bigger than the others - like, way bigger."

Alistair called for the others to halt and passed on what he'd learned, as well as what he knew about displacer beasts. Orchid began casting spells for an imminent battle, starting with a greater magic fang spell upon Shushitan. She sent Law creeping slowly ahead until she could see one or two of the displacer beasts ahead; they didn't seem to have spotted her yet. Chaevaris approached quietly at her side upon Talkacha. The pack of six were on the other side of a slow-moving stream, and as the elves watched, the larger pack leader strode forward, head and body low to the ground as if smelling the trail of a passing deer.

Harlan pulled on Nova's reins in the manner which meant he wanted the celestial pegasus to take to the air. The noble steed did just that, flying over the treetops in a circle, as the paladin cast a bull's strength spell upon himself, in preparation for the coming fight. He slid the Starblade from the scabbard at his belt and readied it for action.

Seeing the two groups were about to meet over by the stream if the predators continued on their present course, Alistair decided to get the fight off to a surprise start - at least on the part of the displacer beasts - by riding Zephyr forward, until he could see a handful of the dark-furred predators ahead between the trees. The young sorcerer cast a cone of cold spell, the frost blast exploding out from his outstretched hand and covering four of the pack members, including the leader. Ambrose took that as his cue to depart Alistair's shoulder for the safety of a high tree branch, well away from the combat.

Ageratum coaxed her pony Munson forward and pointed her wand of magic missile at the largest displacer beast. The wand had been cantankerous in the past, but magic missiles were a good strategy against displacer beasts, for the caster merely envisioned where she wanted the missiles to strike and they went out and did her bidding at that point, ignoring any visual tricks the tentacled prey might be playing. But the wand eluded the halfling's abilities to activate its magic, and Ageratum was left pointing her useless stick at the displacer beast pack lord.

Now alerted to potential prey, one of the displacer beasts bounded up and sent a barbed tentacle striking at the nearest foe: Shushitan, who was himself loping forward into battle. Another raked a tentacle across Alistair's chest, and the sorcerer's first irrational concern was that his newly-purchased vest of charisma would be ripped; he'd paid a goodly sum of money for the item back in Chendl, ensuring it was tailor-made of the finest black silk and embossed with arcane symbols sewn with golden thread. But he was pleased to see the tentacle-barbs had ripped a tear along his outer robe while leaving his magical vest unscathed.

Orchid cast a faerie fire spell at a clump of three of the displacer beasts, resulting in an odd situation: despite the great cats' images being shunted off to a side of their actual location, said actual locations were now indicated by a glowing shape in the form of a displacer beast. Now Chaevaris would have three of the six she could target with her arrows, at least!

With a snarl, Shushitan snapped at the displacer beast who had struck him with a tentacle, avoiding another such attack as he moved in to bite the offender. His jaws clamped around the foe's neck, one of the three whose actual location was indicated by the faerie fire. Chaevaris aimed an arrow at another such beast, ignoring the false image and concentrating on the glowing silhouette.

The pack leader moved up, sending both barbed tentacles ripping at Alistair, who was nearly unsaddled by the strength behind the attack. But he managed to remain on Zephyr's back, although the horse was giving every indication he wanted to flee. From up above, Harlan concentrated on the auras surrounding the pack, not at all surprised to see the telltale indications of evil natures staining them. He sent Nova charging down in a dive at one of the glowing silhouettes - the one fighting Shushitan - and the paladin reached over on one side and sent his blade, charged with Pelor's holy energy, swinging into the displacer beast's side. The Starblade cut deep, the displacer beast gave a howl of pain, and then it dropped to the forest floor, dead from a single blow. Nova banked back up out of immediate striking range of the waving tentacles of the rest of the pack.

Zephyr backed up, but Alistair saw he had another shot available to him and cast another cone of cold blasting into the pack, since he was able to cast his spell in such a way that none of his friends were within the blast area. He managed to hit four of the five remaining foes and was suitably pleased with how he was faring in this combat - a world of difference from his fight against the hezrou several days ago!

Ageratum gave her wand a shake for good measure and lined up another shot against one of the displacer beasts not covered in faerie fire, figuring she should leave those ones to those who needed to target a foe's actual location. To her surprise, the wand fired normally, sending three glowing missiles from its tip to strike unerringly at the target's muzzle. At the same time, Chaevaris released her arrow at the displacer beast she'd been targeting, but the shot went wide as the predator crouched for a charge against Shushitan.

A high-reaching tentacle slashed at Nova as the pegasus flew by overhead, cutting a score across his belly. Two other displacer beasts went for Shushitan, but the wily wolf managed to avoid all of their attacks. Then Orchid cast a spell that shaped the rest of the entire battle; a wall of thorns sprang up from the forest floor, zigzagging in a fashion as to catch up all of the remaining displacer beasts, no matter where their false images showed them to be. All five were now imprisoned by thorns poking at them in all directions, digging in deeper as they tried to move their way to freedom. One of the displacer beasts dropped into unconsciousness while fighting against the thorns, piercing herself in so many places she passed out from blood loss.

Shushitan darted forward again to bite at another displacer beast near enough to the edge of the wall of thorns that the attack was feasible. The wolf took several hits from tentacles on his way, for they were long enough to extend outside the boundaries of the thorns. Chaevaris, meanwhile, aimed another arrow at a glowing silhouette imprisoned in a thorn cage, lining up her shot. With a growl of irritation, the pack lord forced his way a little closer to the edge of his confinement, ignoring the fact that he had opened up several new gashes in his pelt for having done so. But another few attempts and he would likely be free.

Harlan had Nova drop back down to the ground and he stabbed into the thorns with his flaming blade, piercing the side of a displacer beast and slaying it where it stood, more of less helpless against the paladin's attack. He then cleaved his blade into the side of another one nearby, and when it tried slashing its sharp-tipped tentacles in retaliation Nova took to the skies once more, flying in a loop and approaching from the opposite direction.

Alistair moved Zephyr into position for him to fire off another cone of cold spell into the mass of imprisoned displacer beasts; the horse was much more manageable now that the predators had such limited mobility. His spell slew the last of the pack members, bringing the pack's numbers down to just the oversize leader. Ageratum fired off another round of magic missiles from her wand, once again striking the pack leader without any issues. Orchid brought a flame strike spell down onto the last of the displacer beasts, singeing his fur with her holy fire.

Shushitan, in the meantime, was done with fighting; a tentacle hung limply outside the confines of the wall of thorns and the wolf did his level best to chew his way through the rubbery appendage.

Chaevaris, unable to target the displacer beast pack lord well due to not knowing its exact location, decided to try quantity over quality; activating her boots of speed, she blanketed the general area where the beast was imprisoned with a series of four arrows, all of them finding their mark due to the creature's overall size. The pack lord struggled once again to free himself from the thorns piercing his fur and flesh, to no avail.

Nova flew over the imprisoned beast and Harlan swung at it with his sword, but due to the displacement effect he wasn't even close to hitting the creature's true location. Alistair tried a new tactic: firing a scorching ray through his metamagic rod of maximization, thinking he'd have a better shot at not hitting Harlan or Nova by doing so. One of the two rays went wide - for again, the sorcerer wasn't sure of the displacer beast's actual location - but the other hit true, leaving the pack lord looking rather bedraggled and almost pitiful. Ageratum knocked it out cold with another shot from her wand (she was starting to get the hang of it, she told herself), and when it collapsed, Orchid dismissed her wall of thorns spell and the little halfling went slitting the throats of those who still managed to cling on to life.

Orchid cast a mass cure light wounds spell to heal up the worst of the damage from teeth, claws, and barbed tentacles, and then the group moved on. Their way took them in the direction from which the displacer beasts had come, and thus it was no surprise that they passed right by the pack's lair: a set of ruins, stone walls that had once been buildings surrounding a mostly-intact ziggurat of some type. Ambrose warned his master there was another displacer beast lurking in the shadows of one of these smaller buildings, and the sorcerer alerted the rest of the team. Orchid cast a baleful polymorph spell at the hiding displacer beast, only to have it fail miserably. Shushitan growled at the unseen menace, but refused to step any closer, giving his mistress the idea this sole remaining pack member was very possibly not alive any more, but rather some sort of undead figment.

Chaevaris activated her boots of speed again and shot a flurry of arrows in the umbral beast's direction; only one of the arrows found its target, several others having passed right through the incorporeal creature's body. Alistair fired a maximized magic missile spell at it and Ageratum tried to do something similar with her wand of magic missiles, but the wand was once again giving her trouble and refused to fire. But Harlan had Nova charge forward while he floundered with his hands, trying to touch the umbral displacer beast, whose actual location he couldn't actually discern. However, once he felt the creature's mangy fur in his hands, he channeled Pelor's positive healing energy into the creature, power enough to burn it out of its undead existence. With an echoing howl, the creature faded away like a shadow on the ground when a cloud passes over the sun.

Ageratum insisted on looking about the various lairs for any treasure that might have been lying about and surprised everyone by actually finding a few purses of coins and gems, no doubt the holdings of some of the pack's previous victims, if the scattered bones and rusting swords littering the area were any indication. Proud of having found a "reward" for having slain the dangerous pack of vicious predators, the little halfling remounted her pony and followed the rest of the group as they made their way towards Littleberg.

- - -

Dan told us after the game session was over he had discovered the "Umbral Creature" template and just wanted to try it out, so he didn't really have any in-game reason for the one displacer beast to have gained the template other than his own curiosity. But Orchid was definitely our MVP in this session, as her faerie fire and wall of thorns spells really turned the encounter our way.

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PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 11​
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 11​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 11​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 11​

NPC Roster:
Orchid, elf druid 11​

Game Session Date: 31 January 2024

- - -

Arriving in Littleberg, the adventurers found it to be about as they had envisioned: bigger than a village, smaller than a city, with a thriving marketplace featuring all kinds of wares. They traveled through the marketplace, Harlan's celestial pegasus causing quite a few double-takes, and headed for a tavern at the end of the street. "Thorndyke's Tavern," declared a sign swinging outside from a pole sticking out from over the door. The building was a wooden structure, a single story on the right side but the left side sporting a second floor.

There was a hitching post outside, and the heroes tied the reins of their assorted mounts to them. "You watch over them, Shushitan," Orchid instructed her timber wolf, and the lupine beast wagged his tail in acknowledgment. Then Harlan opened the door and stepped inside. The tavern room was pretty full, with pretty barmaids bringing drinks to the customers seated at the various tables, and blazing fireplaces along the back and right-hand walls. An elderly man and woman sat at a small, central table before the northernmost fireplace, smiling over the crowd of customers - mostly human, but with a smattering of elves, dwarves, and even a gnome woman. Automatically scanning the crowd himself, Harlan was pleased to note only a few "pings" of evil in their assorted auras, and of those only at an "I'd steal your purse if you left it behind" level and not at the "I'd sacrifice newborn babies to demons if it would grant me more power" level. He headed over for the only empty table, one that looked large enough to seat eight but with only five chairs placed around it, and was surprised to see a sign propped up against the unlit candle in the middle of the table that read, "RESERVED FOR THE TRAINED PROFESSIONAL ADVENTURERS." Surprised that the owners had apparently known they were coming - a fact unknown to the TPA members themselves until they happened to spot the tavern at about the time they were ready for a noonday meal - Harlan pulled back one of the chairs and took a seat. As the others followed him and took their own seats, the paladin frowned at a cat lounging before the eastern fireplace.

"What's the matter, Harlan? Don't like cats?" asked Ageratum as she climbed up onto a chair scaled for a human.

"No, it's not that - that particular cat has the strongest aura of evil of anybody in this room," the half-elf replied.

"Likely a familiar," opined Alistair, before adding, "Possibly even an imp or quasit!" His own familiar, the grackle Ambrose, sat perched upon his shoulder, scanning the customers.

"No, neither of those," Harlan reassured the sorcerer. "Its aura is evil, but not at the level of a denizen of the Fiendish Planes."

"Evil wizard's familiar, then," guessed Alistair, looking around the tavern to see if he could see anyone who fit that description. Just then, one of the serving girls approached them and asked if they were part of the TPA. Harlan smiled at her and assured her they were the TPA.

"Really?" asked the server. "Because you don't look anything like them."

"What do you mean?" frowned Chaevaris.

"They got in last night," the barmaid replied. "Five of them, but they don't look anything like you." At that, Alistair's mind started coming up with all sorts of crazy scenarios: there were imposters cashing in on the TPA's reputation, possibly performing nefarious deeds for which the real TPA would be blamed. He surreptitiously cast a haste spell on the group, in case these imposters were nearby and needed dealing with at once.

Orchid, in the meantime, had been concentrating on the cat that was giving Harlan so much concern. She cast a speak with animals spell and greeted the little feline in his own language. "Hello," she said. "My name is Orchid. What's yours?"

"Stilton," replied the cat regally, looking up at the elven druid while managing to appear as if he were looking down at her.

"Do you live here, or are you visiting?" prompted Orchid, trying to get the regal cat into a conversation.

"I live here," Stilton replied. "All of this you see - it's mine."

"Really? That's quite impressive. Where are your-- tenders?" She had almost used the word "masters" but felt that wouldn't go over very well.

"All around us," Stilton replied with a sniff. "They all tend to my needs." He looked over to the far side of the room, and Orchid followed his gaze - only to spot a robed wizard walk into the room, see the five sitting around the reserved table, freeze in place, then quickly spin around and return the way he had come, down the hallway leading to the western half of the building. Harlan looked over at the wizard as he started to leave and noticed his aura had the same level of evil as did the cat.

"Time for fish," Stilton announced, getting up from his spot by the fireplace and trotting beneath tables and chairs in the direction of the departing wizard.

"Well, I can take your orders if you like," replied another barmaid, Cecily; the first one had left the table and gone to talk to the elderly couple. The older man raised his glass in a silent toast to the five heroes. "But you'll have to leave the table if the adventurers come downstairs," Cecily added. "It is reserved for them, after all, and Harlan would probably get mad if he saw you sitting in their area."

"Would he now?" asked Harlan with a smile. "This Harlan is an unpleasant fellow, is he?"

"No, not really unpleasant," hedged Cecily. "But kind of stern, yeah."

"This man here is Harlan Starblade," Alistair interrupted, pointing to the symbol of Pelor on the paladin's armor and shield. "Did this other Harlan have Pelorian accoutrements?"

"Not that I can recall," admitted Cecily. Then the first barmaid, Barbara, returned. "Thorndyke says you are welcome to stay at this table," she informed the group.

"I don't think that will be necessary," Alistair retorted, getting to his feet. "'Come downstairs,' you said? I take it these phony TPA members are staying in rooms upstairs, then?" He turned to his companions. "I think perhaps we'd better go have a word with them."

"Agreed," replied Ageratum, hopping down from the chair and slapping her bracelet, causing her to slip from the visible realm.

"You know," pointed out Barbara, "these five fit the descriptions of the songs a lot better."

"But Harlan said the bards just change things around to make the words fit better," argued Cecily. Alistair was already marching over in the direction the wizard and his cat had taken, and before he got too far away, Orchid cast a mass bear's endurance spell upon the five heroes and Ambrose. Then, from across the room, she heard the cat say "TPA" to the wizard in his regal, feline voice. The wizard, Brostem, swore and raced for the stairs. The heroes all leaped up in pursuit. Chaevaris passed by Thorndyke's table and noticed he made some sort of gesture with his hands, very similar to what Alistair did when he cast a shield spell upon himself - a likely wizard, then, or a sorcerer like Alistair. Regardless, the archer made a bee-line for Stilton and scooped him up by the scruff of the neck, noting they were past the rest of the tavern crowd and likely wouldn't hurt any innocent bystanders if they got into a scuffle with the five imposters down here, although their intention was to deal with them upstairs where there would be nobody in the crossfire.

"Elemental!" warned Ambrose as Alistair swept past Thorndyke's table. The bird had seen the flames in the fireplace behind the elderly couple take on a vaguely humanoid form, look about, and then collapse back into a more normal-looking fire. But since it didn't seem to be bothering anyone and likely wasn't allied with the fake TPA members, Alistair chose to ignore its presence but cast a shield spell upon himself to go with the mage armor spell he'd cast earlier that morning. Then Ambrose flew off of his master's shoulder and approached Brostem at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the second floor.

Harlan cast a magic circle against evil spell upon himself and drew his longsword once he was past the tavern customers and in the hallway. Brostem was already starting to ascend the stairs, visible through the banister. Harlan called for the wizard to stop, but Brostem ignored him, listening instead to his cat familiar's entreaties in the language they shared: "It's the real TPA, coming upstairs to confront you! Kill them all!" Unseen, Ageratum pushed her way past the crowds and entered the hallway right behind the paladin, as Brostem called up a warning to his accomplices upstairs. "Get ready to kill them!" he yelled, apparently not at all worried that his words might be picked up by the patrons in the noisy tavern.

Orchid was still among the patrons when she cast a baleful polymorph spell down the hallway, hoping to transform the known-to-be-evil wizard into a harmless bunny. She hadn't had a whole lot of success in the past with that particular spell, but this time it worked like a charm; Brostem shrunk into his new form on the stairs, all wriggling whiskers and fluffy tail. He looked around in confusion, his actions making it apparent his mind had become that of a simple rabbit as well. In somewhat of a panic at the unfamiliar environment, he hopped back down the stairs and tried to hide behind a chair in the corner.

Chaevaris, still holding the cat familiar, advanced to the bottom of the stairs and then drop-kicked the feline up the steps. It gave a yowl of pain and confusion - for its empathic link with its master had just been severed - as it hit the wall, dropped to all fours on a step, and then scrambled back down through the banister to retreat by the front doors to the tavern. Readying her bow, the archer began advancing cautiously up the stairs, arrow nocked and ready to fire.

Alistair, taking full advantage of the haste spell he'd cast, raced up the stairs and into the upper hallway. There were several doors visible, two of them slightly cracked open in the corner. He stood in the corner, where nobody could sneak up on him, and peeked into the first of the doors, finding it to be an unlit linen closet. The other door opened into a ballroom of sorts from what the sorcerer could tell, but he could only see but a sliver of the room. Ambrose, after flying up the stairwell, saw nothing upon which he might perch himself and thus settled back on his master's shoulder. Harlan went up the stairs next, sword in hand, and casting a bull's strength spell upon himself as he did so. Ageratum snuck up behind him, advancing into the ballroom, able to slide into the room without opening the door much further than it already was. Inside the room, well out of the range of Alistair's vision, were two armed and armored human men. They were alert for trouble, with their hands gripped on longswords and apparently ready to spring on anyone who entered the ballroom, but they hadn't counted on the little halfling's invisibility and years of training in moving without making a sound. Ageratum made it to the east side of the room, well out of striking range of either of the fighters.

Orchid made it out of the tavern and only then wildshaped into an eagle, flying over to the open stairwell. She hadn't made it all the way to the upper floor when the first of the imposters struck. A dwarven rogue opened the door to the linen closet in which he'd been hiding and stabbed at the sorcerer, missing him despite having the element of surprise (for the young nobleman had certainly not expected anybody to be hiding in the storage room where the staff kept their clean linens, nor had he spotted the dwarf hiding there in the darkness). And then, with Alistair's attention centered on the first dwarf, the second one - who had been standing right beside the sorcerer as he advanced to the corner, hidden by the ring of invisibility he'd activated when he heard the attack upon Brostem on the stairs and his resulting bunnification - swung at the young nobleman with a sap, hoping to conk him on the head and knock him into instant sleep. But Ambrose's startled squawk as the dwarf popped back into visibility caused the dwarf to flub his attack, smacking his weapon into the wall instead. Ambrose flapped his wings and was down the hall in a shot, not liking to be in the middle of a close-quarters fight.

Chaevaris aimed her nocked arrow at the first dwarf, who had just come out of the linen closet, and was surprised to recognize him: this was Pitkin, one of the rogues whose form had been appropriated by a doppelganger in the Topsy-Curvy Club to establish an alibi for the stocky thief - he was one of the original members of the Wild Coast Club. Unfortunately, the shock of recognition caused the archer to fail to lock on to her target, especially as he was still trying to stab Alistair with his short sword. The sorcerer stepped back, avoiding another swing from the other dwarf's sap, and fired off a cone of cold spell that hit both would-be assassins with a blast of frost that turned both of their faces - and their impressive beards - white. But the sap-wielder, Burkin (also known to the TPA as a member of the Wild Coast Club), managed to roll with the blast, minimizing its effectiveness, whereas poor Pitkin staggered back into the closet from the blast of cold.

Harlan raced up, stabbing his flaming Starblade into Pitkin's chest, then pulling it and swinging it over to Burkin, cutting a gash through the dwarven rogue's studded leather armor. Burkin fell back with a dwarven curse, one hand holding his bleeding chest.

Over in the ballroom, the two fighters were turning at the sound of combat in the hallway and looked to head out there to assist their dwarven allies. Ageratum dashed straight into the nearest one, Dalton, leading with the point of her human bane short sword. Her blade bit deep, the sudden attack returning the fierce halfling into full visibility, and suddenly Dalton opted to leave the dwarves to their own defenses while he and Patterson dealt with the foolish halfling girl who thought she was an equal to two full-grown human men. He decided to give her an immediate taste of the results of her foolishness by bringing his own blade down to cut her in two, but she easily dodged the slow-moving weapon and it merely carved a gash in the ballroom's wooden floor.

Then Orchid flew through the doorway into the ballroom, veering off to the eastern side as she cast a wall of thorns spell that caused thick masses of brambles to grow up and around the spaces the two fighters were currently occupying, extending from one side of the ballroom to the other for good measure. The fighters' curses and struggles to get free only caused the sturdy thorns to pierce their flesh even deeper. Dalton didn't stay trapped for long, though; activating the cloak of the mountebank he wore over his armor, he disappeared in a burst of smoke and reappeared across the room, over by where Orchid had landed after her aerial entry into the ballroom. Patterson merely continued to struggle, making things even worse for himself, as he was already bleeding profusely from several deep piercings.

Chaevaris fired off a barrage of arrows at Burkin, peppering his back as he faced Harlan, thinking him the greater threat. He collapsed forward onto the hallway floor, unconscious and bleeding out. Then, suddenly, Thorndyke materialized in the hallway, having cast a teleport spell after hearing the ruckus coming from upstairs. "Don't be doing too much damage up here," he warned.

Alistair pulled open the other door to the ballroom and stepped inside, his metamagic rod out and ready. He channeled a lightning bolt spell through it, blasting a surge of electricity directly into Dalton, all the while frowning at the garish cloak the fighter was wearing. Harlan burst into the room immediately thereafter, swinging his sword into Dalton's side and dropping him instantly. Ageratum backed over by the unconscious fighter, keeping a wary eye on Patterson (who, fortunately, didn't seem to have any ranged weapons on him), and then slit Dalton's throat with her blade once Alistair and Harlan had turned away. Orchid cast another spell, summon swarm, at Patterson, having decided being pierced by numerous barbs and thorns wasn't enough - he needed to be covered in spiders as well. Thousands of spiders manifested all around him, each one too small to worry about the thorns but more than able to bite the hapless fighter. Being covered in biting spiders only made Patterson thrash around all the harder in an attempt to free himself, to no avail.

Then Chaevaris entered the ballroom with bow drawn. She took careful aim, having determined a foe more or less pinned in place by a wall of thorns spell made a perfect target for her to practice her "eye shot" maneuver. But Alistair fired first, sending a maximized magic missile spell through his metamagic rod to strike the pinned fighter without damaging too many of the spiders covering him, like another lightning bolt or cone of cold spell would do.

Out in the hallway, Thorndyke pressed a bit of clean linen into Burkin's wounds, slowing the flow of blood, while "tsk-tsking" quietly to himself. Ageratum, having determined to her own satisfaction that combat was all but over, started in on looting Dalton of valuables, taking the longsword of wounding from his hand, the cape of the mountebank from around his neck, and shrugging the magical breastplate he wore from his cooling corpse. He also had a ring that looked like it might be magical, so she pulled that from his finger as well, figuring Alistair could check it out for magic later on.

Orchid, Alistair, and Harlan all stood observing Patterson, their sole remaining foe (if the tales of there being five of these imposters was accurate), as he struggled to free himself from both the piercing thorns and the biting spiders. Chaevaris released her arrow, the weapon piercing his eye and going straight into his brain, killing him instantly. Seeing him slump forward, Orchid went ahead and dismissed first her summoned spiders and then her wall of thorns. Patterson's unmoving corpse collapsed to the ballroom floor, and Ageratum moved up to him to check out if he had any valuables on him while Alistair cast a prestidigitation spell to clean up the bloodstains.

"I think we'll leave this one for the authorities," Thorndyke insisted when the heroes stepped back into the hallway. "You've had your vengeance for their charade, and their attempts to kill you after you found out."

"You were aware they weren't the real members of the Trained Professional Adventurers?" queried Alistair.

"Of course, at once," admitted the elderly wizard. "They were nothing like your descriptions in the songs, although they argued that the bard who wrote those songs carefully changed the descriptions so as not to give their enemies any warning about their true appearances." Alistair frowned at that comment; he hadn't ever considered the fact that he might be describing his team to their own detriment, if an enemy were able to use that information against them. "But they needed a place to stay, and their coin was as good as any other," Thorndyke added. "They've paid through the week; you're welcome to take over their rooms for the duration, if you like." The heroes opted not to take Thorndyke up on his offer, but they did check the rooms out and took the group's equipment for themselves. Alistair was particularly fascinated by Brostem's spellbook; he didn't use such a tome himself, but he figured a read magic spell would allow him to peruse the book's contents, after which time he could use each page as a single-use scroll if it came to that; the words would disappear as he intoned them, preventing him from ever using the same spell twice, but the book was hefty enough to include dozens of spells, if the sorcerer's guess was correct.

Chaevaris caught the bunny still trying to hide behind a chair, and Orchid caught Stilton over by the front door. "Are you sure you won't stay for a meal?" inquired Thorndyke, returning to his seat by his wife.

"I fear we must be on our way," Harlan replied. "Another time, perhaps." That suited Alistair just fine; he wanted nothing to do with an establishment that would elevate five common thugs to the level of the Trained Professional Adventurers. Just what was the world coming to, in any case?

Once they'd eaten (at a different inn) and moved on (Harlan took the opportunity to purchase a ring of feather falling from a local magic shop), they fed the bunny to Shushitan in the privacy of the interior of their extradimensional dwelling inside the amulet Chaevaris wore. When killing the bunny reverted Brostem to his original (but still dead) form, Ageratum was displeased to see the wizard kept no magical loot about his person. And Shushitan was displeased at having been suddenly deprived of his rabbit meal.

But he felt much better when they fed him the cat.

- - -

We had a bit of confusion when Dan showed us the map to the upper floor, as he had the same three squares being a set of stairs going one way on the bottom floor and the other way on the top floor, but we got that straightened out. Dan said he wrote this adventure specifically to close the loose plot thread of what had happened to the members of the Wild Coast Club who had fled Ghourmand Vale (although that hadn't been anything any of us were particularly concerned about), and we all found it interesting that Brostem, a local wizard from Littleberg, had just been hired to replace their original wizard...who had been baleful polymorphed by Orchid in the only other time she had ever gotten that spell to work. (That's also where we picked up Carruthers.)



Getting knocked from your mount is never a great whole lot of fun​
Landing sprawled in the dirt is a pain when it's all said and done​
But it's even much worse when your mount's flying high in the air​
'Cause a fall from such heights pretty much leaves you without a prayer​
So, if you ride a pegasus, griffon, or a hippogriff​
And your mount's in the air after galloping right off a cliff​
If a foe slays your steed, perhaps slitting its neck with a claw​
You will find gravity's not a hoax, or a scam - it's the law​
It is for this reason that those who ride their mounts aerial​
And would just quite as soon delay their upcoming burial​
Gather up enough coins to purchase a feather falling ring​
If you want to avoid a quick death then it is just the thing​
For if you find yourself riding high in the sky on your steed​
And then you get knocked off, rather than hitting ground at full speed​
Instead, the ring kicks in and you float safely down to the earth​
It's twenty two hundred gold pieces - how much is your life worth?​
And the ring serves as much more than an insurance policy​
Although some think that is all it does, that's a sure fallacy​
If you're up on the rooftops, fleeing an attack by some punk​
You can jump off the roof and slow fall as if you were a monk​
If you need to climb up to the top of a building, outside​
And you're worried 'bout those who have failed at the task when they tried​
You can banish those fears - those are thoughts reserved for lesser men​
'Cause if you fail on your first try you simply can try again​
The ring of feather falling is almost a necessity​
For those who prefer not to go splat on the ground messily​
If your mount always stays on the ground, well, then that is one thing​
But if it often takes to the air, then you do need this ring​



PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 11​
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 11​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 11​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 11​

NPC Roster:
Orchid, elf druid 11​

Game Session Date: 13 March 2024

- - -

"I've got a job for us," Ageratum told the other members of the Trained Professional Adventurers, as she climbed the stairs and entered the top floor of the Light and Dark Club.

"Oh?" asked Harlan, his eyebrows raised in surprise. The little halfling was usually more reactive than proactive; it wasn't like her to go seeking out commissions for their services. However, as she explained, that hadn't exactly been the case. She hadn't gone out looking for a job, but rather a member of the local thieves guild came to her, seeking help. "You guys remember Oleg Kulakov, right?" she asked.

"The gentleman from 'the Hall of Collection and Revenue, Enforcement Division,' as I recall," replied Harlan with a smirk - it was a rather feeble euphemism for the guild of thieves.

"That's the one," the halfling replied. "Well, he went and got himself kidnapped a couple of weeks ago. The rival guild sent a ransom note, asking for 25,000 pieces of guild for his safe release. The drop-off point is an abandoned guard station about a day's ride from here, toward the Lortmil Mountains. Another guild member, Boris Predtsiva, went to go scout the place out, but he hasn't been seen since."

"And they want us to deliver the ransom?" asked Alistair.

Ageratum just laughed. "What? No!" She shook her head at his naivete. "No, they're willing to pay us 5,000 pieces of gold to go slay the lot of them. There's another 5,000 in it for us if we return with Oleg alive."

"What about Boris?" asked Orchid.

"They didn't say anything about Boris," Ageratum admitted. "I'm sure they'd be fine with us rescuing the two of them, but they aren't paying anything additional for Boris."

"So we're putting our lives on the line to rescue a couple of thieves," Chaevaris summed up, ignoring the angry look Ageratum was throwing the archer's way at the flippant disregard for people in her line of work. Sure, she didn't have a whole lot of respect for Oleg or Boris - if they were better at their craft, they wouldn't have gotten caught - but everyone had to make a living some way.

"We are rescuing two people held captive by an evil band of rogues with no regard for the sanctity of life and freedom," Harlan explained in a different way. "I say we accept the job."

"Uh, good, 'cause I already did, on all of our behalf," admitted Ageratum.

"Did you get the payment up front?" asked Alistair, to which the little halfling gave him a look that clearly said, "Of course I did - what, do I look stupid or something?"

There was only a few hours left of sunlight left in the day, but that was no impediment; they mounted up and made their way down the road, traveling while the light was good. Then, as the sun set, Chaevaris activated her magic necklace and activated the extradimensional door onto a nearby tree. Opening the door, Alistair bade Carruthers to exit, and once the shield guardian had done so, the elf deactivated the door and then reactivated it onto the tower shield held by the massive construct. One by one, the other heroes brought their steeds into the extradimensional dwelling (Harlan merely dismissed Nova back to the celestial planes that were his home), and then followed suit, closing the door behind them. Chaevaris then clambered up onto Carruthers' shoulder, pointed the way, and set the shield guardian on the path towards the drop-off point, still the better part of a day's ride away. All through the night, Carruthers ambled along the road, being told which way to go by the elven archer or indicated by Ambrose, when the elf grabbed several hours of reverie needed to keep her at peak proficiency. But as per Alistair's instructions, Carruthers stopped a good hour's distance from the abandoned guard post, so there would be little chance of blundering into the path of the kidnappers while most of the party was asleep. The next morning, everyone awoke, got the horses outside (and Alistair used a prestidigitation spell to clean up after them), had their breakfast, and put Carruthers back into the dwelling before making their way for the last hour of travel.

"There it is up ahead," Chaevaris pointed out as the group came to the edge of a forested area. Two hundred feet or so away, across an open field, stood the abandoned structure, no longer serving as a guard station but now making do as a temporary thieves guild hideout. She brought her gray horse, Talkacha, to a halt before exiting the handy camouflage of the surrounding woods. Behind her, the others brought their mounts to a halt. "I make out at least one guard," Chaevaris reported, shielding a hand over her eyes and looking at the building, a single-story structure about 15 feet high. A heavy wooden door was planted directly below the battlements where the guard slowly paced back and forth, keeping a wary eye out for trouble.

"I should think a bird's-eye reconnaissance would be in order," decided Alistair. On cue, Ambrose flew from his master's shoulder and made a wide circuit around the building, a mere innocent-looking grackle. Upon his return, Ambrose reported there were four guards on station at each point of the compass, plus a fifth guard stationed outside a pair of doors in the interior courtyard. "But of particular note," added Alistair, translating his familiar's situational briefing, "is there's a griffon circling about 100 feet overhead." Chaevaris shielded her eyes again and looked up, spotting the winged guardian. Sure enough, it was making a slow circuit around the building below, in a counterclockwise fashion. She began nocking an arrow to her bow, but then Alistair interrupted her and cast a flame arrow spell upon the group's assorted ammunition.

Before placing her arrow into her composite longbow, Chaevaris removed her ring of invisibility and handed it over to Harlan. "You take this," she suggested. "I think I'll stay back here and snipe at a distance." At her suggestion, Alistair brought Carruthers out from their extradimensional dwelling and assigned him the role of keeping the archer safe. The sorcerer then cast a pair of mage armor spells upon himself and Nova, a pair of Rary's telepathic bond spells (to get all five heroes in on the mental link), and a greater invisibility spell upon Harlan's winged steed. Harlan cast the spells bull's strength and magic circle against evil on himself and a bless spell on the assembled group. Orchid cast barkskin spells upon herself and Nova, a longstrider spell upon herself, a greater magic fang spell upon Nova, an air walk spell on Chaevaris, and a mass bear's endurance on the assembled group. She then instructed Shushitan to look after the horses as usual and the timber wolf chuffed his understanding, tail wagging at once again being put in charge.

"Okay, then," Chaevaris said once everyone was ready. "When I shoot the griffon, that'll be your signal."

"Got it," affirmed Alistair. Unseen, Nova took to the skies, flying toward the guard station, flying about 30 feet up. Ageratum stood beside the sorcerer and activated her bracelet of invisibility, similarly fading from view.

Chaevaris tracked the griffon's flight, waiting until it had made a full circuit and was once again facing her way. Then, focusing the whole of her attention upon its right eye, she waited until the optimal moment and then let fly. The arrow ignited in mid-flight, finding its target and penetrating the griffon's skull through its right eye socket, slaying the great beast immediately. With a startled squawk, it plummeted down to the earth like a meteorite, crashing along the southern end of the open courtyard in the midst of the guard station.

"Holy crap!" yelled the rogue stationed outside the doors to the building's interior, abandoning his station and running over to the downed griffon to investigate. The four guards up on the battlements all looked behind them to see what the commotion was about. And in that instant, Alistair cast his dimension door spell, transporting the four heroes to the rooftop at the northeast corner of the building. Back in the forested area, Chaevaris was fitting another arrow into her longbow and taking careful aim at the southern guard, waiting for him to turn around so she could try to place her next arrow into his eye socket. (It was getting to be a kind of game to her.)

Orchid stepped away from Alistair and cast a summon swarm spell, causing the eastern guard to suddenly be covered in spiders. He gave a startled shriek, slapping at his arms and sides in an attempt to brush them off his body. But he was bitten a few dozen times despite his best efforts, and he staggered and danced his way down the battlement to the north, getting even closer to the one who had done this to him - not that he noticed, in his panic.

Ageratum, in the meantime, broke off to the west, sneaking up on the northern guard whose back was turned to her as he started to resume his normal post. Her human bane short sword stabbed deep into his lower back, almost dropping him instantly. There was no door at either end of the battlement, merely a set of stairs that doubled back down into the courtyard; the guard tried escaping in that fashion, but the switchback of the steps brought him right back in reach of the halfling's sword, and he finished his trip down the stairs in a lifeless heap after Ageratum's flashing blade nearly severed his neck. Chaevaris slew the southern guard with her second arrow, then activated her boots of speed and started running toward the building, Carruthers following behind at a much slower speed. The western guard, quite intelligently, opened the door at the north end of the battlement section and fled through it.

One of the doors abandoned by the courtyard guard suddenly swung open and an armored man came rushing out of it, drawn by the sounds of combat. He too started making his way towards the downed griffon, only to be attacked from behind and above by a paladin's fiery sword and an unseen creature's kicking hooves. Then Alistair cast a cone of cold spell down into the courtyard and across the eastern battlement, slaying the easternmost guard (and all of the summoned spiders from Orchid's spell) and the courtyard guard, while adding a layer of frost onto the startled fighter Harlan had just attacked from Nova's back. (The paladin's attack had returned him to full visibility, whereas Nova remained unseen by dint of the more powerful greater invisibility spell, making it look like the half-elf was squatting in mid-air.) The fighter spun and looked up in amazement at the oddly-positioned paladin, but was brought down by a flame strike spell from Orchid before he could return an attack at Harlan.

As Ambrose took off and started his own aerial reconnaissance around the building, another figure stepped through the door the fighter had just exited. However, this member, a rogue named Dick, took one look at the chaos and the dead bodies of his allies and decided he'd best return the way he came, at best speed. He slammed the door behind him as he fled. Ageratum ran after him, using the spider climb ability of her cloak of arachnida to scamper down the side of the wall, slapping her bracelet and fading back into invisibility as she did so. Nova landed in the courtyard, spun about, and kicked at the door before she could get there - but it failed to open, nor did it smash to smithereens as the pegasus had apparently hoped.

Chaevaris continued running toward the building, Carruthers dropping further and further behind as his speed was not magically enhanced as hers was. If this bothered him - considering he was supposed to keep her safe from harm, as per Alistair's verbal instructions - his motionless construct face gave no indication. He likewise gave no indication when Chaevaris rose from the ground, continuing to run but now doing so in the air (Orchid's air walk spell still active) so she could clear the battlements to the south of the guard station. She heard a crash of some sort off to her right, past the corpse of the dead griffon, and looked askance at a pair of wide doors that opened on rollers, barn-style - the sound had come from in there.

"Hold on!" Alistair said as he grabbed the elven druid from behind and repeated the words to his dimension door spell. In the blink of an eye, the two were now over on the western battlements, Orchid now right before the door the fleeing guard had entered and shut behind him. She pulled open the door and followed his trial, seeing him dash through another door on the other side of the room beyond. Orchid raced down the steps, entered the next room, to see the guard about to pass through yet another before him, and Dick coming into this much larger room from the east. Wanting to halt the progress of both of them, she cast a wall of thorns spell across the back edge of the room, imprisoning the pair.

But not for long, at least in Dick's case. Invoking some magical property of the armor he wore, the area in his immediate vicinity was instantly covered in shadows, and when they dissipated seconds later he was nowhere to be found, having taken a side-jaunt through the Plane of Shadows to make his escape.

Ageratum opened the double doors to the building interior, casting them wide as she ran into the room so Nova and Harlan could both enter. She stayed over by the wall of thorns, knowing the paladin and his invisible steed would be unable to see her in her own presently invisible form. They came galloping into the room, running down its length to get to the cursing guard trying to free himself from the various nettles and thorns stabbing at his armor and clothes. Orchid had purposefully cast the spell just along the back surface of the room, specifically so her friends would still be able to reach their enemies once they were snagged in the spell's confines, and this allowed Nova to run up to the guard and Harlan to run him through with his longsword. Ageratum was there at his side in a jiffy, adding her own blade-thrust to the mix. And just that quickly, the Trained Professional Adventurers had cleared out the top level of the building - with the possible exception of whatever had made the noise in the stables, which Chaevaris was about to investigate.

Orchid found a set of stairs that led downstairs, too narrow for Nova to follow. So, discussing it over the Rary's telepathic bond, it was decided Nova would go aid Chaevaris and Carruthers - who had caught back up with his elven charge, after having burst through the southern doors to the guard station - in investigating the stables while the other four heroes went downstairs to seek out Oleg and Boris. In the time it took for everyone to reposition themselves, Alistair had cast a haste spell upon himself and Orchid, and the druid had cast a spider climb spell upon herself, just in case it came in handy. Then the four went down the stairs, Harlan and Ageratum in the lead, both now invisible, with Alistair and Orchid just behind.

The stairs led to a large room, from which branched off a wide corridor, which took a left turn down another wide passageway before leading to a short set of steps leading into a larger room. And in that larger room, coiled around a hole it had dug through the floor, was an enormous worm with a ring of sharp, pointed teeth projecting outward from its front end and a wicked stinger sticking out from its tail. It made no immediate move as the heroes froze at the top of the steps to consider what they had just spotted, but it could detect all four of them from the vibrations made by their feet, and it turned its head towards them.

"I say!" whispered Alistair in awe. "That's a purple worm!" He'd heard tales of such creatures from the other wizards and sorcerers who shared drinks and stories at the Dark and Light Club. Harlan had heard tales of such creatures as well; he cast a resist acid spell upon himself, figuring it would come in handy should he get swallowed whole by the massive worm.

Up in the courtyard, Chaevaris landed back on the ground and grabbed one of the sliding doors, pulling it along its wheeled track to the right, the other doors opening at an equal pace to the left due to a pulley system on the inside of the stables. Doing so revealed what had been making the noise inside: a chimera, about the same size and build as the dead griffon, but sporting three separate heads: that of a lion, a goat, and a blue-scaled dragon. "Kill it!" the archer cried out, causing Carruthers - who would have stood there unmoving until the three-headed creature actually made a move against his charge - immediately swung into action, pummeling the chimera with his rock-hard fists. The chimera retaliated with a blast of electricity from the dragon's mouth, striking the construct in its broad chest. Chaevaris back up a few steps - literally up, as the air walk spell was still in effect - and locked onto the dragon head's left eye with her next arrow. The shield guardian gave it another couple of quick blows, the chimera struck at Carruthers with two sets of teeth, a pair of horns, and the claws of its front paws, and then Nova got in a couple of kicks, rearing back on his hind legs. But then Chaevaris got in her shot, and the chimera fell over dead, an arrow lodged through the dragon's left eye socket.

Down one level, Alistair initiated combat over the head of the invisible halfling before him by firing a lightning bolt spell through his metamagic rod. The bolt of electricity struck true, but didn't seem to do as much damage as the sorcerer had hoped. At his side, Orchid cast a spike stones spell into the room, covering the entirety of the stone floor, so that when the worm came to attack - they'd decided to hold their ground at the top of the steps and let it come to them - it would slice up its underside. Ageratum fired off a blast from her wand of magic missiles, hitting the worm as well. But then the worm slithered over, ignoring the pain of the slashing along its underside doing so caused from the spikes, and struck at Harlan in a rather snakelike fashion. But its aim was off (or the paladin was just lucky), for the worm missed.

Alistair fired off another lightning bolt spell through his magical rod, once again hitting but failing to do as much damage as he'd hoped. The rod only worked three times per day, so he only had one more use of it in this fight. Orchid then cast a freedom of movement spell upon Harlan, having been worried the worm would have gobbled him up and swallowed him down into its gullet, not realizing the paladin had already prepared himself for such an eventuality. Now his resist acid spell wouldn't be needed, for the druid's spell would ensure he never got swallowed in the first place.

Ageratum tried firing her magic missile wand a second time but it didn't cooperate; she opted to scoot back behind Alistair, the worm now too close for her personal comfort. Harlan got a good grip on his sword and prepared to strike when the worm next made an attempt, for after having failed to bite the paladin it had reared back, well out of range of his sword, and he had no desire to go running across a field of spike stones to get to it.

The worm made its next move fairly quickly, once again darting its tooth-filled maw at Harlan (and once again missing, although this time it cost it a slice across its front end with a flaming burst longsword), but then stabbing forward with its tail end, the venom-dripping stinger finding success where the creature's maw had not. Harlan felt a burning sensation in his leg where the stinger had stabbed him and felt the strength slowly start to drain from his body.

Alistair blasted the worm with his last maximized lightning bolt spell of the day, and this one seemed to finally have the full effect. Orchid, out of combat spells by this time, shot at the massive worm with her frost longbow, the arrow magically imbued with both fire and cold effects, the cold from the bow and the fire from Alistair's flame arrow spell. The arrow buried itself up to the feathered end of the shaft and the druid was initially proud of her shot, until she realized it would have been pretty embarrassing to have missed a target that large. But then the worm teetered over to the side, coming to a crash on the floor, where it lay still - Orchid's arrow shot had been the killing blow after all, and she decided to go ahead and be proud of her shot after all.

"Let me deactivate the spike stones," the druid offered, and once she had done so Ageratum ran into the room and over to a side room she'd spotted, where there were two bodies slumped along the floor - perhaps these were the imprisoned Oleg and Boris they sought? As she approached, she could determine several things all at once: these were indeed the two men they sought, Oleg having a chain around his ankle that secured him to the wall; they were both obviously dead; and the warmth was being leeched out of her body at an astounding rate. Maybe it had something to do with the patches of mold growing all around - and over - the bodies of the thieves guild members lying on the floor?

"Get back out of there!" Orchid commanded, then spun to face Alistair. "Dismiss your flame arrow spell from my arrows!" she commanded. After the sorcerer hurried to do so, she sent arrow after arrow into the room, each one aimed at a different clump of the brown mold and each infused with cold energy from her frost longbow. Once Alistair had figured out the reason for her actions, he mentally thought to himself (and careful not to broadcast it over the telepathic link still in place) that a simple cone of cold spell cast into the room would have done the job that much quicker, but he let the druid have her moment in the spotlight. "Brown mold - it grows when it absorbs heat, but can be killed with cold energy," Orchid explained.

Once the brown mold had been slain, Alistair wondered aloud, "I wonder what caused it to cover them like that. Surely the kidnappers wouldn't have purposefully slain the victim they hoped to hold for ransom?"

"Here's your answer," replied Ageratum, having re-entered the cell area once the brown mold had been reduced to frozen ashes. She held up a wand in one hand. "I found this in Boris's hand - it's a wand of burning hands. The dumbass must've snuck in here, thinking he'd do the big heroic rescue thing, and used a fire-based spell on the brown mold."

"...which would have caused it to grow exponentially, and cover the two of them," Alistair realized. He looked down at Boris. "Idiot! Your ignorance caused your own deaths!"

"And cost us that second 5,000 gold pieces," the little halfling reminded him. The sorcerer just shook his head in disbelief. "There are some things that simply require Trained Professional Adventurers," he opined.

Exploring the cell further, Ageratum discovered an illusory wall in the back, out of reach of Oleg, beyond which was a pile of rubble, where a set of stairs had collapsed. It looked like it might be possible for someone as small as Ageratum to wriggle down there to a lower level, but such antics weren't really necessary - if they wished to explore the lower level, there was the wide-open hole the purple worm had tunneled from below.

"Well?" asked Harlan. "It seems our rescue mission was a bust. Do we wish to go see what's on the level below us? I'm sure the worm was in no way connected to the thieves guild, but there might be something worth investigating below."

"It wouldn't do any harm," pointed out Ageratum. "And we're already here."

"I know what Elfy Danger Silverleaf would do!" enthused Alistair. Then calling over the Rary's telepathic bond spell to Chaevaris, he thought, <Elfy! We found some tunnels on a lower level down here! Come check it out with us - and bring Carruthers!>

- - -

Next session, we'll go see what's on the lower level, which has absolutely nothing to do with the kidnappers. Alistair's all for pressing forward immediately, but Chaevaris has already put forth the notion that if we're going to do this, we may as well camp out for the day and start fresh with a full complement of spells. (And Orchid can prepare spells more suited for underground exploration.) Sure, that's probably more sensible, but where's her sense of adventure?

"Looting the stiffs" resulted in a nice +3 lance and +4 heavy steel shield for Harlan, courtesy of the 10th-level fighter slain up on the courtyard. Ageratum's keeping the wand of burning hands and the thieves' coil (teleportation rope) she took off of Boris's corpse, and we're going to sell the surplus armor and weapons we took from the rogues.
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PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 11
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 11
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 11
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 11​

NPC Roster:
Orchid, elf druid 11​

Game Session Date: 20 March 2024

- - -

"I disagree," replied Chaevaris, as the five heroes stood at the edge of the hole the slain purple worm had dug up from a depth even lower than the basement level of the abandoned guard post.

"But Elfy, adventure beckons!" argued Alistair. "There's a whole level down there, just waiting to be explored!"

"And that level will still be there tomorrow," reasoned the elven archer. "It was only unearthed when the purple worm that you slew - good job on that, by the way, guys; sorry I missed out on that - dug a tunnel up from below. So what are we likely to find down there? Undead, oozes, maybe some traps..."

"Maybe some treasure," added Ageratum.

"Yes, maybe, but the treasure won't be going anywhere either. And we'd all be better off after a day's rest, when Orchid can have a full complement of spells again, and ones more suited to a dungeon environment."

"I wouldn't mind that part of it," admitted Orchid. "Some of the spells I still have on hand today would be fairly useless that far underground - like entangle."

"It would seem you've been out-argued," pointed out Harlan, slapping the young sorcerer good-naturedly on the shoulder. "We'll go check it out tomorrow. In the meantime, we can spend the rest of the day giving the guard post a thorough exploration, to make sure we haven't overlooked anything."

Alistair sighed, but eventually faced the obvious: he wasn't going to go checking out the unearthed tunnels today after all. Maybe that was why Elfy Danger Silverleaf traveled alone: so nobody could put a damper on his enthusiasm to get the job done! The sorcerer looked over at the two dead bodies of the men they'd come to rescue, and who had already been dead when they arrived that morning. "What about those two?" he asked. "Anybody have a gentle repose spell?" He asked the question to the assembled group, but he was looking specifically at Orchid.

"You'd want a cleric for that, not a druid," she responded. "Or maybe even a wizard - I don't recall."

"Hmmph!" snorted Alistair in irritation. "Well, they're not getting any fresher; I'm going to cast shrink item on them, turn them into cloth until we get back to Ghourmand Vale. Beats storing them in our extradimensional dwelling, stinking up the place where we all have to sleep." As Alistair went about his spellcasting, the others headed back upstairs, Harlan leaving the sorcerer with a warning not to do any exploring down the worm's shaft on his own. Alistair merely rolled his eyes and promised he would resist the temptation, then returned to his spells. Shortly thereafter, Boris and Oleg were each both a small fraction of their size and now made entirely of cloth. Alistair deftly rolled them up and stuffed them into an empty potion vial, which he then stoppered - turning them to cloth, as he feared, had done nothing to diminish the stench of death already wafting from their decomposing bodies (although that might have been the worm - but no, they'd been dead longer than it had).

The next morning, Alistair was practically champing at the bit. "I've summoned Ogilvy," he announced to the others as they took positions around the hole in the floor where the purple worm showed up. "He can carry Chaevaris's bullseye lanterns so we can all see--oh! Wait! Better yet, I can cast a darkvision spell on each of us!"

"Slow down, there," suggested the archer, as she lit her lantern and felt it taken from her by the unseeen servant. Ogilvy, at his master's direction, shone the light down the worm's tunnel, showing it to be about 40 feet in length, nearly vertical, and ending in the ceiling of a chamber below. It looked like the floor to that lower chamber was about 50 feet below them. But Alistair was in no mood to slow down; he was already casting spells: two Rary's telepathic bond spells to get all five of them into a shared mental link, a mage armor spell upon himself, a flame arrow spell on the group's assorted ammunition, and the aforementioned five darkvision spells. <Whoa!> Alistair broadcast over the link. <This is way better than the light from the lantern!> He had Ogilvy extinguish the lantern's beam so it didn't screw up their ability to see in absolute darkness.

Orchid started casting some spells of her own: a barkskin spell on each of the five, a longstrider spell upon herself, and then a greater magic fang spell upon herself as well, anticipating she'd probably be wildshaping into an animal form sometime during their explorations. Shushitan, the usual recipient of that spell, was up in the stables with the other mounts, enjoying a snack of rotting chimera as he watched over his charges. Ambrose was up there as well, as Alistair didn't want to hamper his grackle familiar by confining him in what could well be tight, cramped subterranean spaces.

Harlan cast a magic circle against evil spell upon himself, then followed it with a bull's strength on himself and a bless spell on the group. Chaevaris busied herself tying one end of their 50-foot length of silk rope securely to a piton hammered into the floor. Ageratum slapped her magic bracelet and slid into the comfort of invisibility, then offered to go down the rope first. Once she was 40 feet down, she activated the spider climb ability of her cloak of arachnida and secured herself upside-down on the ceiling.

Even from that angle, there was plenty for the little halfling to see. A set of double doors along one wall of the chamber had been smashed in; she assumed that was how the worm had made it to this chamber in the first place. Another set of double doors, this one intact, stood on an adjacent wall. But there was a man, human by the look of him, standing behind a counter in front of four statues. Looking in Ageratum's general direction - the halfling got the idea he couldn't see through her invisibility spell - he gestured with his hands to the statues behind him. Ageratum opted not to move any closer to this weird, silent man - his skin seemed awfully tight on his face, which didn't have any kind of expression; was he undead? - but she could see the statues were, in order, a wizard perusing a tome in his hands, a cleric in the robes and trappings of Boccob pointing at a scroll he held in one hand, a druid examining a leaf-covered branch, and a cloaked figure peeking through a barely-open door. Each was pretty much life-size, assuming these were all humans. Ageratum noticed a bit of metal on the plinth of the last statue (the one closest to her), and it looked to her like some sort of bracelet. From what she could see, it seemed as if two of the other statues also had bracelets lying at their feet. Could it be these the silent figure was indicating?

Ah, screw it! decided Ageratum. She passed on her findings to the others through the telepathic link and then, still on the ceiling and still invisible, walked through the open doorway with the smashed-through doors. That, she saw, led to a trapezoidal room which opened to a smaller room filled with crushed stones and chunks of rubble. No doubt this was directly under the collapsed stairs they had found past where they found the corpses of Oleg and Boris. There was a spot of wetness atop a large chunk of stone; thinking it might be a gray ooze or some other amorphous blob-monster (and seeing no other way out of those two rooms), she returned back the way she had come.

Harlan, by that time, had used his ring of feather fall to glide safely to the lower floor, and the undead cleric - for the paladin could see right away this man was no longer alive - held his hands to the side, indicating the bracelets. Instinctively, Harlan detected the man's aura and saw the tell-tale darkness of evil spread throughout it. Of course, that could simply be a result of his undead status; of note, the cleric had yet to make any threatening gestures. "Do you speak?" Harlan asked the man, but got no response. Well, that was in itself an answer of sorts.

Harlan stepped aside as he saw the rope flailing about, to make room for Chaevaris as she climbed down its length and leaped the final couple of feet, landing nimbly. She too was invisible, as Harlan surmised when he heard her land but saw nobody there. Shortly thereafter, Orchid climbed down, this elf fully visible, and then Alistair came down last of all. He had Ogilvy clinging to his back, if the bullseye lantern floating beside him was any indication, but the lamp's shutter was closed.

Ageratum wandered down the wall and over to the intact set of doors. Seeing no obvious traps, she opened one, and the room beyond was obviously a library, with 20-foot-high books in a room whose ceiling rose five feet above their tops. Wheeled ladders were stationed nearby, as a means to reach the highest shelves, but immediately before the double doors, carved into the floor, was a five-sided holy symbol of Boccob, God of Knowledge and Magic. A fountain of sorts rose up from the middle of this carving, with water cascading out of the top of a small goblet and spilling over into a larger goblet beneath it. Several empty cups sat on a shelf on either side of the fountain, and another of these silent, undead clerics stood at the fountain's side. With an expressionless face, it indicated the goblets with a hand, despite apparently not being able to see the invisible halfling.

Harlan had stepped closer to the first attendant, by the statues. By concentrating, he was able to detect the evil he'd sensed was indeed focused upon the undead in the Boccobian robes, and not the statues, which seemed harmless. Likewise, the bracelets at their base did not give off any waves of evil. Chaevaris came up beside him, looking at one of two bracelets at the vase of the druid statue; at this range, she could see it was a human male druid carved in stone. The bracelets were metal, made to look like a circlet of intertwined vines. Curious, she touched one, with no ill effects. <Should I try putting it on?> she asked Harlan over the link.

<He seems to be indicating we should do so,> Harlan replied to the invisible elf at his side.

<They all detect as magic,> Orchid commented as she too approached. "Abjuration and divination, fairly low-level. I'm going to put one on.> Reaching for one of the ones at the druid statue's feet, she placed it over a slim wrist. <No noticeable harm,> she advised the others.

<I don't know about this,> worried Alistair, approaching with hesitation. <It seems like we should be destroying evil undead...but these are Boccobians! I'm trying to learn more about Boccob, now that I've come to terms with being a sorcerer. It seems like showing up at a hidden library and destroying the aides is a bad way to get in good with the Boccobian faith....> Still, Alistair reached down and picked up one of the bracelets at the feet of the statue of the wizard examining a tome. He placed it gingerly around his wrist and was pleased when no immediate ill effect manifested. Once he had done so, the undead attendant shifted position and waved his hands towards the double doors to the library, as if indicating Alistair should enter. Still somewhat worried, he headed over that way. Harlan grabbed up the other bracelet from the wizard statue's plinth and followed suit, approaching the second attendant.

Upon the paladin's approach, the undead cleric dipped a cup into the fountain and proffered it to Harlan. A quick glance at the cleric's aura showed that he too was evil. But before the half-elf could drink it, a secret door in the wall opened up and out stepped another undead (equally as evil, Harlan noted absently), this one in a more warriorlike attire, with heavy armor and a longsword in hand. He looked towards the door as if in puzzlement, although no expression showed on his face. Ageratum felt a magical effect trying to overflow her senses, but managed to ward off the aura of despair coming from the undead fighter.

<Ageratum!> called out Alistair over the link. <Are you in the library?>

<Yeah, I'm right here in the doorway.>

<Are you wearing a bracelet? Not your invisibility one; one from the base of the statues.>

<What? No.>

<I'll bet that's what's causing the undead guy here some confusion: he senses someone in the library without a bracelet, but can't see you because you're invisible.>

<Hang on,> offered Orchid. <I'll bring you one.> The druid grabbed up the last remaining bracelet (from the statue of the planewalker looking through the door, although she'd assumed it was a rogue in a concealing, hooded robe) and held it out as she approached the double doors. Ageratum stepped back into the entry hall and put it on. <Thanks,> she said over the link.

Another secret door opened in a wall at the back of the library, and another undead cleric in Boccobian robes stepped forward, striding to the front of the library in a hurried pace. Alistair, by this time, had entered the pentagram and been offered a cup of water from the fountain. <Well, it can't be any worse than eating a sausage from a tomb,> he reasoned, and drank down the elixir. Immediately, he felt his senses become more tightly focused, as his body felt somehow strengthened. <The water's fine,> he told the others. <It seems like some kind of a study aid.> Harlan then drank down his own cup of the elixir, and Ageratum, now fully visible (after having deactivated her bracelet of invisibility and put on the "rogue bracelet"), stepped into the room and was offered a cup of her own, which she gulped down. Chaevaris and Orchid soon followed suit.

The head librarian, Andrew, cast a resist energy spell on himself as he approached from the back of the room. The five heroes, having all partaken of the elixir by that time, had noticed their bracelets gently "tugging" them towards specific bookcases, and allowed themselves to be led. It turned out the bracelets they wore were attuned to different topics - the wizard's bracelets worn by Alistair and Harlan, for example, led them to bookshelves of arcane knowledge, whereas Orchid's druid bracelet led her to a stack of tomes about various plants and animals. But then Chaevaris noted Andrew's approach, and the fact that among his Boccobian ornamentation on his robes, he wore a chalice on a chain around his belt. Harlan, seeing the undead cleric headed in their direction, readied himself to turn undead if needed.

"Hey," Ageratum said aloud to a nearby attendant - surprised to hear that a magic field throughout this hidden library turned down the volume of her words, making them no louder than a whisper despite her having spoken in a normal tone of voice, "can you lead me to the section involving rogue topics, like lockpocking?" She suspected her bracelet might be faulty, as it had led her to a shelf of books about other planes of existence. The undead attendant made no comment, merely walked away, leading the halfling to the smaller section of books she desired to see. But Andrew accosted her on the way there. "Halfling," he whispered aloud, "is the Pelorian your leader? I would speak to he who speaks for your group."

"Uh, yeah, sure," agreed Ageratum, leading the undead cleric Harlan's way. Harlan's hand drifted to the hilt of his longsword at Andrew's approach, but the half-elf listened to what he had to say. Andrew spoke at some length, going on about a mythical "end to all magic" that could occur at any time, but which could be defeated by a secret spell hidden within an artifact called the staff of Darvax. "I would have your team quest for this hidden spell, if you'd agree. You may all use this library to gain what knowledge you need to find the spell that will prevent the end of all magic."

Harlan explained the offer to the others, who all converged on the two, over by the pentagram. <What do you think?> he asked his team.

<I say, I know these guys are all evil undead, but they've been fairly innocuous so far,> pointed out Alistair. <And I, for one, would hate to see an end to all magic.>

<Agreed,> added Orchid.

"Very well, then," Harlan told Andrew. "We will accept your quest."

"Excellent," replied Andrew, pulling a scroll from his robes and reading off the words inscribed there. He had apparently been speaking very literally about his "quest," for he cast a quest spell upon the half-elf paladin, one that held Harlan to completing his appointed task, or he'd suffer daily for failing to advance upon his goals. But immediately after the spell was completed, Harlan's bracelet started glowing, and it pulled him towards the back of the room. "Wait, where are you going?" demanded Andrew. "You should be heading back to the outside world, to seek the staff of Darvax!"

Harlan's bracelet had other ideas, however. It led him to the back of the library, to the secret door from which Andrew had first entered the library. The other heroes followed the paladin, but stayed outside as he entered the secret room, only to return almost immediately with a book in his hands. "Here's your secret spell right here," he said, flipping open the book and pulling out a folded page that had been placed inside. "The bracelet led me right to it."

Andrew's formerly expressionless face now held a rictus of extreme anger. "What are you doing with that book?" he demanded, the force of his voice being comically dropped down to a whisper by the magics of the library. Harlan's paladin senses told him the book he held was itself evil.

<Are you following any of this?> Alistair asked the group.

<Not a bit of it,> admitted Ageratum. <I'm getting out the thieves' coil, though, just in case we want to get out of here fast.> She opened her bag of holding and did just that, while Andrew continued to stomp their way, complaining, "You're wasting time!" The undead fighter, joined by a second one who popped out of another hidden door halfway down the library's length, flanked him, swords out.

"What's gotten you so upset?" Chaevaris asked Andrew, stalling for time as Ageratum placed the thieves' coil in a circle around the five heroes.

"You're not doing what you're supposed to be doing!" insisted Andrew, as Orchid got herself into position and readied the casting of a wall of thorns spell - she didn't like the way Andrew was bearing down on them, and saw him start to speak the words to some kind of spell. She didn't trust the crazy, undead cleric, so she cast the spell, surrounding the five heroes with a thick wall of nettles and piercing thorns - just as Andrew's blasphemy spell hit, dazing all five of them for a moment. In the brief moment of the heroes' senselessness, Andrew had successfully cast a dispel magic spell on the wall of thorns, causing it to disappear (and free the one undead fighter it had imprisoned). Alistair cast a maximized lightning bolt spell through his metamagic rod and hit Andrew straight on, but the spell had absolutely no effect - leading the sorcerer to believe it was entirely possible they were dealing with a lich. But before he could voice his suspicions, Ageratum pushed the activation button on the thieves' coil and the five heroes were suddenly back up in the stables with Shushitan and their mounts.

"Let's get out of here," suggested Harlan, calling across the planes and summoning Nova by his side. "I've had enough of crazy undead librarians." Ageratum pointed out their library bracelets were no longer on their wrists, apparently having teleported back to the statues in the entry hall when the heroes were no longer in the library. For that matter, the elixir that had increased their focus seemed to no longer be in effect; it, too, must only work inside the Boccobian library, they decided.

Alistair voiced his concerns Andrew was a lich. "That book might be his phylactery, then," suggested Chaevaris as she mounted up onto her horse, Talkacha. "It would explain why he was so mad you had it in your hand."

"The whole thing seems wacky," reiterated Ageratum. "Why cast a quest spell that leads you to a piece of paper right there in your own library? And if that was his phylactery, how could be possibly not know there was an extra, loose piece of paper in there?" Everyone agreed undeath probably mixed up the brain cells or something; no doubt this all made some sort of sense to Andrew.

"So what are we going to do about the hidden library?" Orchid wanted to know as the group exited the abandoned guard station and started back to Ghourmand Vale. "We're knowingly leaving behind a bunch of undead."

"There's a Temple of Boccob in Ghourmand Vale," replied Harlan. "When we get back into town we'll have a talk with their head cleric, see if he knows about the place and is okay with undead running the place. Then they can do whatever they want about it. Who knows? They might even hire us to come back and take them all out."

"I have another suggestion for when we get back to Ghourmand Vale..." began Orchid.


"Well, we were too late to rescue Oleg, but I know the reincarnation spell. Since Alistair has his corpse, I could always cast the spell on Oleg and bring him back to life in a different body. I know it's not exactly the same thing as having rescued him before he was slain, but if he ends up still alive..."

"We'd get the extra 5,000 gold pieces!" cried Ageratum. "That's brilliant!"

"Assuming Oleg agrees," pointed out Alistair. "He could always come back as a kobold or something and be pretty miffed at us."

But, as it turned out, casting the reincarnation spell resulted in a bit of an upgrade for Oleg: he went from a dead human to a living half-elf, with a longer natural lifespan as part of the deal. He was more than happy enough to have been brought back in a new form and instructed his underlings to pay the Trained Professional Adventurers the extra 5,000 pieces of gold they'd been promised if they brought him back alive.

"You know," Alistair told the Guildmaster, "we could always have Orchid cast another reincarnation spell on Boris, if you'd like. We wouldn't ask for another reward, simply have you reimburse us the cost of casting the spell - a thousand pieces of gold."

"One thousand pieces of gold to bring back idiot who got us both killed," mused Oleg. "Hmmm. Tell you what - I think on it and get back to you."

- - -

This was a two-and-a-half-hour adventure session, played through in combat initiative order for the entire session (although there was no combat until the very last few minutes, so that was weird). As we told Dan at the end of the session, the adventure locale was very evocative and had a lot of cool components, but it was a shame he hadn't actually written an adventure for our PCs to go through in it. Vicki got a little mad at us on Dan's behalf (sticking up for her husband, fair enough), but even Dan admitted he hadn't really thought through this one. Apparently Andrew was an "accidental lich" (a major plot point from Logan's "The Durnhill Conscripts" campaign), although if that were the case it made no sense for him to have a phylactery, or to know the book was even his phylactery, and Dan only added the secret spell being hidden in the pages of the book because (as he confessed at work the next day) the whole deal with the mythical "cessation of all magic" is just a bunch of hokum that Andrew believes to be true, and after having have him cast a quest spell on Harlan, Dan realized there was no way for the paladin to complete the quest, as he was looking for something that didn't really exist. So he suddenly came up with a "solution" by having Harlan find the secret spell in the phylactery/book, although how a secret spell that's part of a nonexistent prophecy even exists in the first place doesn't make any sense at all.... We agreed this wasn't one of his better efforts.

However, as I pointed out, if the Ghourmand Vale Boccobian clerics find undeath to be an abomination, they could always hire us to destroy the undead in the hidden library and bring all of the tomes and book back to the Vale, in which case he's pretty much got his next week's adventure already written. That's what he's decided will be our next course of action, so it looks like we'll be headed back to the ruins with the dead (and rotting) chimera, thieves' guild members, and purple worm next game session to do a little library cleaning.



PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 11​
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 11​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 11​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 11​

NPC Roster:
Orchid, elf druid 11​

Game Session Date: 27 March 2024

- - -

The next morning, the five adventurers went straight to the Ghourmand Vale Temple of Boccob to talk to their head cleric, planning on offering their services to rid the hidden library they'd uncovered of the undead plaguing the place and return the books, tomes, and scrolls stored there. In addition, they planned to allow the local scribes to copy the information found in the book that served as Andrew's phylactery, because they certainly were going to see to its destruction before they confronted the lich once again.

Fate, however, had other plans, and none of the intentions of the Trained Professional Adventurers would see fruit that day. First of all, the head cleric was not there in the temple; two mere acolytes had the run of the place, but they at least felt empowered to allow the adventurers before them to go take out the undead in the hidden library upon their authorization. However, they said it could take a day or two to determine the authenticity of the phylactery/book, and then up to a week to do the proper divinations to determine whether the book's contents - which detailed the prophecy of upcoming "cessation of all magic" that had Andrew so concerned - were even worth copying down for posterity, or if they were just the rambling ravings of a lunatic.

"Very well," agreed Alistair, who held the book firmly in his possession and refused to release it from his grasp. "I hope you understand one or more of us will remain with the book at all times until you have completed your assessment." His unspoken thoughts were somewhere along the line of, "I personally don't trust you not to decide it would be easier to just keep this copy of the book intact, despite the fact that as a phylactery, it will serve as a place to house Andrew's soul when we kill him, which will allow him to remanifest as a lich." Now that he knew he was a sorcerer, he was trying to learn more of Boccob, God of Magic and Knowledge (he'd been raised in the worship of Pelor, as had been all of the Pastlethwaites), and he didn't want to do anything to get on the bad side of the members of this local temple.

A sudden slam from the two front doors had everyone turning to look their way. The heroes had closed the doors upon entry into the temple - a simple, mostly one-room affair with bookcases lining the front and side walls and two areas in the back corners where no doubt secret doors allowed access to the clerics assigned there - but they were rattling in their housings, as if a strong wind were buffeting them from outside.

Alistair's mind went directly to a possible attack. "An invisible stalker?" he surmised. "Do you think Andrew sent an invisible stalker to fetch back his phylactery?"

"It's a distinct possibility," admitted Harlan. "Best we prepare for combat." He concentrated his paladin's powers of aura-reading in the general direction of the doors. "There is definitely evil beyond," he told the others, then cast a magic circle against evil spell upon himself as he moved to the side of the eastern door, ready to attack if anything burst its way in the temple. Orchid moved up behind Harlan and cast a barkskin spell upon the paladin, while Chaevaris moved to the back of the temple, behind the desk where the two acolytes had been standing. Pushing them behind her, she nocked an arrow into her bow and took steady aim at the front doors. Ageratum activated her bracelet of invisibility and slipped out of view, then spider climbed her way to the ceiling above the western door, likewise ready to strike any enemies making it into the building. Alistair cast a haste spell on all but Chaevaris, then had Ambrose hop down under the desk while he moved beside the archer and took aim at the doors with his metamagic rod.

"There are three distinct auras of evil," Harlan announced after confirming the fact through his paladin's vision. "One is much stronger than the other two." He then cast a bless spell upon the group, to better ready them for the imminent combat he felt had to be coming. Orchid cast a death ward spell upon the paladin, expecting the doors to come flying open at any moment.

But the evil outside the door was taking its own sweet time to actually do anything. Alistair, well aware that the clock was ticking on the haste spell he'd cast upon the heroes, which at his current level of spellcasting expertise only lasted just under two minutes, finally suggested to Harlan that he open the doors and let the undead advance upon them in the doorway, certain the half-elf would be able to prevent them from getting into the temple. After a few last spells (Harlan cat a bull's strength spell upon himself and Orchid cast a freedom of movement spell upon him), Harlan swung open both doors, to see three undead forms slowly taking shape before them: it was Andrew and the two undead "bouncers" from the hidden library, slowly reverting to a solid form after having used a wind walk spell to travel the distance from their lair. While they were still taking form, Ageratum ran outside and planted herself beside one of the undead fighters, ready to attack it with her short sword once he was solid enough to do so, and Orchid cast a second freedom of movement spell upon herself. Chaevaris and Alistair focused their attention on Andrew, standing a good ten feet behind his bodyguards, the archer with her arrow and the sorcerer with his lesser metamagic rod of maximize spell, through which he planned to send a scorching ray spell.

Once the undead forms looked solid enough and started moving, Chaevaris released her arrow from the back of the Boccobian temple. The arrow flew true and struck Andrew in the forehead, where the arrowhead shattered and fell to the ground, seemingly having done the lich no apparent harm. Alistair fired off his spell and sent twin gouts of flame Andrew's way, engulfing the lich in a blast of fire that singed his bones, while Ageratum's sword swung out at the undead fighter beside her, cutting through his armor and into his thighbone. But then, having assumed full corporeality, the full force of the mummies' aura of despair struck the heroes, temporarily freezing up all but Harlan (who was immune to all forms of fear effects) and Orchid (whose freedom of movement spell had the fortunate side effect of making her immune to paralyzation).

However, for the next few moments, it was a three-against-two fight in the favor of the undead forces. Harlan didn't let that concern him; he boldly stepped up to the mummy before him and swung several times with his Starblade at the undead thing, the smiting energy of Pelor in his first swing, cutting deep into desiccated flesh and bone time and again in a rapid-fire sequence. The accumulated damage was enough to have taken down most of the other humanoid foes the paladin had encountered in his heroic career thus far, but the mummy fighter still stood.

Orchid cast a wall of thorns spell, encompassing the two fighters along its front edge and burying Andrew in ten feet of spiny thickets in all directions. Then the druid moved over by Ageratum, hoping to be able to protect the now-visible halfling while she was temporarily unable to move to defend herself. Andrew, seemingly unhampered by the piercing thorns all about him, cast a summoning spell from a scroll and a towering earth elemental appeared near Orchid and Ageratum, fist already swinging down in an overhead slam aimed at the druid. But before it could finish its deadly arc, it slammed into an invisible barrier of some sort: Harlan's magic circle against evil, which prevented it - or any part of it - from reaching the druid while she was within the radius of effect of the paladin's spell.

The two mummy fighters struggled through the briars and brambles, each moving diagonally away from Harlan to reach the freedom outside the wall of thorns spell. Harlan swung his flaming Starblade at the one immediately before him and connected, but still he refused to fall. The half-elf moved over to his left, to keep up with the mummies, and dodged a blow from his primary opponent as he did so, but then channeled more of Pelor's smiting energy through his blade and finally cut down the first of the two mummies, who collapsed in a heap of armor and undead flesh before him. The Starblade went unerringly from one undead body to the next, cutting through the second mummy's throat, but what would have been a mortal wound on a mortal foe was far less debilitating to an undead mummy.

Before the Huge earth elemental could strike again, Orchid cast another freedom of movement spell, this one upon Ageratum, and it had the effect of instantly freeing her from her paralysis. Then the druid scooted back closer to Harlan, getting back inside the range of his magic circle against evil spell. The two of them were just inside the doorway to the temple, limiting the sides by which their enemies could try to strike them.

But Andrew attacked them where they stood, by casting a blade barrier spell all along the front of the temple's interior, catching both heroes in a mass of whirling blades. Orchid leapt back further into the temple instinctively, whereas Harlan wasn't as lucky - or as quick. Flying blades swung at him from all directions, more than he could block with his shield or parry with his Starblade.

The remaining mummy went to go attack Ageratum, passing by the open doorway as he did so. Harlan struck out at him from amidst the mass of whirling blades, catching him by surprise, but not enough to throw the mummy's own attack off by much, for his own battered blade cut through the halfling's armor and into her shoulder, causing her whole arm to go numb as blood seeped from the wound. Then, to make matters even worse, while she had been focused upon the mummy the earth elemental pounded down at her from above. She, unfortunately, was just outside the range of Harlan's magic circle against evil spell, and the massive fists battered her to the ground, dropping her to her hands and knees.

Chaevaris finally snapped out of her mental paralysis, activated her boots of speed, and got back into the swing of things. Despite there now being a mass of whirling blades across the doorway and a wall of thorns further concealing Andrew, the elf could see enough of her foe to loose her three last undead bane arrows and a normal arrow after that, each fired with enough expertise to make it past both potential barriers without being battered away. However, they barely seemed to have any effect upon the lich, causing the archer to realize she wasn't really going to be able to deal the undead spellcaster enough damage to get past his innate defenses.

Ageratum slapped at her magic bracelet, resumed her state of invisibility, and scrambled up the outer wall of the temple, reaching the roof. Just to be safe, she backed up enough to be where she felt she was beyond the earth elemental's massive reach. She then fumbled at her belt, seeking out the healing potion she knew she kept there - for she was, at this point, in desperate need of some magical healing!

Alistair, standing beside Chaevaris, also snapped out his paralysis and decided the various impediments - blade barrier and wall of thorns spells - couldn't stop a maximized magic missile spell, so he fired one of those off through his metamagic rod and sent it streaming over at the lich. At the same time, Harlan extricated himself from the blade barrier spell and sent a flurry of sword-strikes at the mummy fighter, nearly cutting his undead flesh to ribbons. No blood spilled from its wounds, but it was fairly obvious the fighter couldn't withstand much more of such punishment.

Orchid, suspecting at this point it was greatly needed, cast a mass cure light wounds spell, which had the added advantage of dealing damage to undead flesh as well as healing up the wounds of those living bodies within the area of effect. The rush of positive energy was enough to finally slay the second undead mummy, leaving Andrew alone on the battlefield as the heroes' sole remaining enemy. But he quickly responded by casting an inflict wounds spell upon himself, the negative energy having a healing effect upon his undead form.

The Huge earth elemental, by this time - either by Andrew's mental command or on its own initiative - lumbered down the alley to the west of the Boccobian temple, where a side door allowed access to the building's interior. But Chaevaris, back behind the desk at the rear of the temple, decided if she couldn't directly harm Andrew, she could still bring another weapon into play, and caused another door to manifest on the back wall of the temple interior. Sensing the elf's plan, Alistair called for Carruthers to exit their extradimensional dwelling and come help guard the temple against any and all enemies. The door opened and the shield guardian stepped into the temple, ready to do his master's bidding, while the sorcerer directed his attention back at Andrew, firing off another maximized magic missile spell through his metamagic rod. That was the last daily use of the metamagic rod; any further attack spells would rely upon the sorcerer's own arcane abilities as to how much energy he could channel into them.

Up on the roof, Ageratum drank down her healing potion and ran over to just above the alley door, still invisible and planning on how best to attack the towering elemental. Down before the open front doors of the Boccobian temple, Harlan realized the wall of thorns was no impediment to him while Orchid's freedom of movement spell was still in effect upon him, and, Starblade in hand, charged through the thickets, which parted for him before his approach. He brought his holy flaming burst longsword crashing into Andrew's side. The strike did nowhere near as much damage as Harlan had hoped - Andrew's undead bones were magically hardened against physical attacks - but the fact that the lich wasn't as safe here in the wall of thorns as he'd assumed had apparently shaken him up, for he pulled out another scroll and started casting the spell inscribed therein. Harlan cut him again with his blade as he did so, but the antimagic field spell took effect immediately thereafter, and the paladin saw with dismay the flames go out along his sword's blade, felt the magical deflecting power of his shield diminish to nothingness, and could feel the magical enhancement to his physical strength get snuffed out like a candle as well. Furthermore, he was no longer able to move effortless through the thorns which had somehow remained unaffected by the antimagic field. Simply put, he was now stuck in here facing the lich on his own!

Orchid cast a summon nature's ally spell which caused a Huge air elemental to manifest beside the earth elemental, and set it against the rocky foe, which had just kicked its way through the alleyway door, leaving it hanging in splinters. (What it was planning on doing after that was anybody's guess, as its rocky body was far too big to fit through the now-open doorway.) But the opening gave Chaevaris a good view of a foe she could possibly harm, and she sent a few arrows flying up over Carruthers' shoulder to strike the earth elemental. Ageratum, deciding not to draw the massive earth elemental's attention back on her by attacking it after all - she figured the others had things well in hand on that front - ran back over to the southwest corner of the temple's roof and spider climbed her way down to the ground.

Alistair blasted a lightning bolt spell at the earth elemental, while Orchid's summoned air elemental continued to pound at the thing's back with its fists made of whirling air. The earth elemental ignored these attacks in its single-minded focus upon the foe before it: Carruthers, who it tried striking with its boulderlike fists, to no avail - fighting through such a (relatively) small doorway was next to impossible for it. Carruthers demonstrated that he had no such concerns, pummeling the earth elemental with his own massive fists. And Chaevaris kept up her ongoing arrow barrage, each one dealing little damage by itself but slowly whittling away at the earthen monstrosity. Alistair sent another lightning bolt its way for good measure, damaging it even further. But just as it looked ready to fall over, Orchid cast the killing blow, not with a spell - for she was pretty much out of attack spells at this time - but with a well-aimed arrow of her own from her frost longbow. The arrow struck the elemental, causing a patch of frost to form around the wound-point, and then cracks raced all through its frame, causing it to collapse in a pile of rubble. Fortunately, as a summoned creature, the rubble vanished almost instantly, preventing the alleyway access from being blocked.

Over at the front of the temple, Ageratum threw a "pebboulder" at Andrew, watching it attain its full boulder size immediately upon entering the antimagic field, but even though it struck true it didn't seem to even faze the lich. That's when she realized she didn't have any real way to harm the lich either - it was all up to Harlan at this point.

And Harlan was well aware of this fact. Knowing of the lich's extra-dense bones, he figured he'd have to deal it as much damage per strike as he could, which meant concentrating less upon accurate strikes and focusing more upon the strength of each blow. Even without his bull's strength boosting him, the paladin was more than the equal of any strongman, and he pumped all he could into each blow, making them count. It was a deadly back-and-forth fight, with the paladin's sword only barely seeming to hurt Andrew with each strike, while the lich used his claws to much better effect; now it was merely a matter of which of the two could hold out the longest against the other's attacks. The antimagic field prevented Harlan from using his laying on of hands, which would have healed up the worst of his wounds - it was a test of endurance, one which the Pelorian paladin knew he could not fail, for if he succumbed to the lich's attacks, he feared the other heroes had no way by which to slay him before he regained his book and could become effectively immortal.

But despite the lich's attacks faring much better against Harlan than the paladin's sword-strikes were doing against Andrew, Harlan had started this one-on-one melee with a much greater level of overall health and well-being than had Andrew, who'd already had several powerful attack spells hurled his way. True, Andrew dealt Harlan more damage than Harlan was able to inflict upon him, but the paladin had a greater resource from which to draw, and in the end, that was what finally turned the tide. Bleeding from a dozen wounds by that time, Harlan nevertheless managed to strike Andrew's head from his neck, the magically-depowered Starblade still a well-honed blade capable of such a blow. The lich's headless body fell to a heap at Harlan's feet; the skull remained caught up in a patch of thorns until Orchid dismissed her spell.

Once he was able to do so, Harlan send Pelor's healing energy to close the worst of his wounds, while Orchid ran back outside - the blade barrier was now down - to tend to him with her own healing spells. Alistair looked down at the book he still held, and which the two Boccobian acolytes looked upon with curious greed, wondering what the pages inside had to say. "I'm sorry," Alistair told them. "My initial offer is hereby rescinded; as the phylactery now holds Andrew's spirit, we will be destroying it immediately, before he has a chance to remanifest."

"But the knowledge contained within--" sputtered one of the acolytes, the first to find his voice.

"Will have to remain lost," replied Alistair, tossing the book onto the remains of the shattered alleyway door and casting a scorching ray spell at it that soon had it blazing. It was hard to tell, but the sorcerer thought he heard the faraway cry of a tortured voice, although it may have just been his own imagination. He fed the flames the remaining chunks of shattered wood from the door, getting a nice, blazing bonfire going - before casting a shrink item spell upon it once the pages of the book had been reduced to ashes. Then he placed the resulting piece of fabric in his pocket; he'd been neglectful, and a shrunken bonfire would certainly have come in handy against the lich in his antimagic field.

"When the head cleric gets back, have him contact us if he wants us to slay the other undead in the hidden library we unearthed and return the books and scrolls stored there to your temple here," Alistair said to the two low-level clerics. The acolytes, sullen at having the phylactery destroyed before them against their wishes, nonetheless agreed to pass on the message. And the head cleric, once appraised of the situation, agreed at once to hire the Trained Professional Adventurers to clear out the hidden library of undead and bring the accumulated knowledge back with them.

That plan, at least, went off without a hitch.

- - -

This game session was a little contentious, with Dan making some "immediate, top-of-the-head" rulings that somehow always seemed to work against us, only to have to backtrack once we showed him what the rules said about the matter at hand. Still, he overruled the rules a few times even after the fact, which is how we had a temporary wall of thorns spell still up in the midst of an antimagic field, and why Harlan's smite evil attack which felled one mummy fighter was not allowed to be applied to the second mummy fighter, who was right there within range, when Harry pointed out Harlan had the Cleave feat. Dan ruled the smite evil only affected the first mummy, even though with the Cleave feat it's the same swing that affects a second creature if the first foe falls. (Dan argued that to do so would allow Harlan to "double up on damage" - a concept he turned completely on its head when he tried applying the blade barrier spell damage to Harlan on the round in which the spell was fist cast and he failed his save, but then again when it was Harlan's turn in the round; fortunately we were able to talk him out of that.)

It also became apparent that we had seemingly gotten shorted on XP once Dan told us how much we had earned. Andrew had cast a summon monster VII spell to bring forth that Huge earth elemental (and had cast an 8th-level spell, discern location, to find out where we'd gone after leaving with his phylactery, as he had no idea we were stationed in Ghourmand Vale). Casting 8th-level spells means a Caster Level of 15 or higher, and with a +2 CR of a lich applied, that should have given us over 5,000 XP each just for Andrew. But no, Andrew was just an 11th-level cleric, Dan told us - it turned out he'd misapplied how a temporarily increased Wisdom score (from an owl's wisdom spell) works, and gave Andrew the "bonus spells" of spell levels he couldn't even cast. For the benefit of the Story Hour write-up, I turned those into spells cast from scrolls.

Bottom line: we need to look after not only Dan's unfamiliarity with some of the rules, but also with his "adversarial DM" inclinations. Oh, and yesterday he informed us this week's Wednesday and Saturday games need to be put on hold, as they have family visiting. So our next game session in this campaign won't be until 10 April.
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PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 11​
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 11​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 11​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 11​

NPC Roster:
Orchid, elf druid 11​

Game Session Date: 17 April 2024

- - -

"That looks like it," announced Harlan. Before them, just beyond the eastern edge of the town, a massive, canvas "tent wall" had been erected, the location of "Anastasia's Curiosities of the World," a combination traveling zoo/freak show making its rounds around the area. As the prominent adventures in Ghourmand Vale, the five members of the Trained Professional Adventures had been invited to come see a pre-show viewing and have dinner with the owner. The attraction wouldn't be opened to the public until tomorrow, but that was one of the perks of being local celebrities. This was likely all on the up-and-up, but just in case, Alistair had cast a mage armor spell upon himself, and Orchid was under the effects of a longstrider spell.

"Plenty big," commented Chaevaris. Indeed, the canvas wall stood a good 20 feet tall and stretched north to south at least 100 feet in length. A painted wooden facade with an archway situated on the southern quarter of the wall facing them was the obvious entrance, with a slit down the center indicating where the tent flaps stood. A slender, dark-haired woman lounged in a canvas chair beside the entrance and seemed absorbed in reading through some papers. Immediately to her left stood a large, muscular creature some nine feet tall in spite of its hunched posture, playing with a small weasel it held in its massive hands. At the approach of the party, it abruptly stopped playing and stared at the party with all six of its insectoid eyes. The weasel leaped over to the woman who rose, patted her gray render bodyguard gently on its massive arm, adjusted her hair, and greeted the newcomers you. "Welcome to my circus of curiosities! I am Anastasia; you must be Harlan, Alistair, Chaevaris, and Ageratum, the Trained Professional Adventurers!"

"And I'm Orchid," introduced the elven druid. "I'm a relatively new addition." Wherever Anastasia had gotten her information about the TPA, it was somewhat out of date.

"Allow me to give you the quick tour," Anastasia offered, sweeping open the canvas flaps. Beyond, the ground was covered in sawdust and contained a half-dozen cages of various sizes, constructed of sturdy iron bars along the walls with wooden roofs. Each was on a wooden support platform, elevating the creatures within by a foot or so. The way directly ahead made a wide path, with cages on either side. To the immediate right, a quartet of snakelike creatures with snapping beaks at the center of four claw-tipped tentacles clicked and slithered about; to the immediate left, four fierce-looking cats paced about. Anastasia laughed at their antics as they snarled and pulled back the skin of their faces, revealing musculature and the bone beneath it. "Lesser folk may be frightened by these krenshars, but surely not you."

"I say!" declared Alistair, never having seen such antics - or the hyenalike krenshars - before. His grackle familiar Ambrose gave the cats a wary eye as he perched upon his master's shoulder.

Just beyond the first two cages was a perpendicular walking path, with another two cages further back. The one to the right held but a single creature: a fawn-colored, scaly-winged beast with large teeth and claws and a rather forlorn expression. As Anastasia neared the cage, she took the weasel from the pocket of her robes and casually flipped it between the bars of the dragonne's cage. The hungry beast caught the hapless mustelid out of the air, chewed it but once, and swallowed it down. "My dangerous dragonne from the hills," Anastasia announced. "She's got a roar that can unnerve even such stout fellows as you. Thankfully, she knows if she doesn't roar she'll get a fresh weasel. Don't approach her without a weasel or she’ll let you know about it - quite loudly."

"So noted," replied Orchid, frowning. She didn't seem too impressed with the idea of keeping creatures locked up in cages.

"Now, on to the greatest member of my collection," Anastasia said, turning the corner past the krenshar cage and ignoring the pair of four-armed girallons in the cage directly across from the dragonne. To the north stood a male figure the size of a human, in a cage with bars along most of one side but a "privacy area" enclosed in wooden walls along the western end. The young man wore velvet knee-length pants and an embroidered waistcoat. An eyepatch covered his left eye, and his head seemed partially caved in, as if he'd suffered a serious injury that was still healing on its own. "Behold, Salissis the Snake-Boy!" As the group approached, they could see a scattering of scales in patches along the visible areas of skin, and he seemed to lack elbows. Of even greater concern was the metal pin stabbed through his right heel, just behind the ankles, through which a sturdy chain secured him the the center of the floor. The chain was long enough to allow him the full range of his lengthy cage, but it was still disconcerting to see a "zoo animal" wearing clothes and imprisoned in this fashion, even if the heroes had all recognized the boy as a yuan-ti. "He is a prince of his kind, from the jungles where we found the savage apes," added Anastasia. "He ravenously devours all flesh he comes into contact with. Beware that he doesn't charm you with his malevolent gaze!" Orchid looked at the pathetic boy, whose one visible eye was almond shaped, with a vertical pupil. But there wasn't much in the way of intelligence behind the boy's gaze, just a dumbfounded stare, much like that of a cow.

Alistair, however, wasn't looking at the Snake-Boy; his attention was focused upon the last cage, to the east of the yuan-ti's. It was smaller, but was also equipped with a "privacy area" along the northern side, and it held a striking young woman: striking in the fact that her skin was bright red and she sported a pair of upthrust horns from her brow. She wore a short skirt, from which a pointed tail extended to the floor of her cage. And unlike the Snake-Boy, her eyes beheld a humanlike intelligence.

"I say!" declared Alistair again, turning to Anastasia. "Why in the world do you have an intelligent creature locked up like this?"

"Oh, she was found in the jungle as a baby," Anastasia replied. "She enjoys her role in our little setup; she occasionally reads fortunes when she's not on display." The tiefling said nothing to contradict the proprietress, but that seemed unlikely to the young nobleman; he couldn't put a finger on it, but he suspected Anastasia was lying to them about the young girl. Alistair turned to look at Harlan, his mouth open to ask a question, but the paladin was one step ahead. "Yes," he answered the unspoken question. "The tiefling, the yuan-ti, and our hostess - and none of the others." Without being asked to do so, Harlan had been inspecting the auras of those they'd encountered thus far.

Chaevaris immediately realized there was a good chance they'd soon be fighting Anastasia, so she stepped around the corner, out of immediate view of the proprietress, and activated her ring of invisibility. Then, in a practiced move, she pulled an arrow from her quiver and set it in place upon her magic longbow. But then a bit of movement by the tent flap caught her attention, and she saw what was clearly a yuan-ti abomination - a massive serpent with a humanoid chest and arms below a snake's head and neck - slither into the closed attraction and follow the way the heroes had come as they took their tour. Immediately deducing this snake-man was after Snake-Boy (who was, after all, supposed to be some sort of yuan-ti royalty), the archer silently replaced the arrow she'd grabbed up with her last sleep arrow, hoping to send this abomination snoozing before it could even start combat against the heroes.

Back by Snake-Boy's cage, Alistair was still arguing with Anastasia. "I can certainly see locking up dangerous creatures like the girallons," the sorcerer continued. "But these two" - and here he indicated the tiefling and the yuan-ti halfblood - "are intelligent beings! They do not deserve to be caged like mere animals!"

"Actually," began Orchid, wanting to press the point that no living creature belonged in a cage, but she was cut off by Anastasia and decided to head over the way Chaevaris had gone. She was surprised not to see her fellow elf, and looked around before she realized what had likely happened - Chaevaris was already anticipating combat! The druid cast a detect magic spell and noted the areas around Snake-Boy and Anastasia radiated an aura of magic - interesting.

"Neither of them has ever made any objection about their living conditions," Anastasia argued. Ambrose, already bored with the conversation, took off from his master's shoulder and did a quick aerial reconnaissance around the enclosed cages. He spotted the yuan-ti abomination from the air and gave a quick call to his master in the language they shared. Alistair responded by calling out, "A yuan-ti approaches!" in a low hiss, then cast a haste spell that encompassed himself, Ambrose, Ageratum, and Harlan - the two elves were too far away (and Alistair didn't see Chaevaris around anywhere in any case). Warned of the approaching enemy, Harlan cast a bless spell on the entire party of heroes, specifically avoiding granting the benefit to Anastasia or her gray render bodyguard; no sense in aiding the potential enemy. Then he turned to face the tent flap, spotting the advancing abomination as it slithered past the grick cage towards the pathway leading to Snake-Boy's enclosure.

Chaevaris, in the meantime, had a bead on the yuan-ti's left eye with her sleep arrow. Ageratum ran over by the elves, slapping at her own bracelet of invisibility as she did so. Then the yuan-ti abomination made some hand gestures indicating he was casting some sort of spell, and Chaevaris let loose with her sleep arrow. Her training allowed her to place it right on target - the creature's unblinking left eye - but as its eye was covered in a translucent scale in the same manner as a snake, it didn't cost him his vision on that side of his head as it would had he been a human target. In addition, the reptile fended off the magical attempt to cause him to fall asleep, but Chaevaris got the impression the arrow-strike had caused him quite a bit of discomfort nonetheless.

The gray render didn't like the accusing tone of Alistair's voice even if it didn't understand all of the words he was saying, and interposed himself between the sorcerer and his mistress. Snake-Boy wandered over to the bars of his cage and started sniffing the air, his head cocked at a quizzical angle. It was apparent he was smelling something, and was trying to recall where he had picked up that odor before in his life....

Anastasia began casting a spell of her own, placing a hand upon her gray render associate as she did so - perhaps readying him for combat just as the heroes had been doing for themselves? But then Orchid spun around and cast a spell directly at the proprietress, striking her with a narrow beam of energy. The baleful polymorph spell did its work, and suddenly, in Anastasia's place directly behind the gray render there was only a little bunny. She looked around in astonishment at her new form, a good indicator that her original intelligence still dwelt behind the rabbit's fluffy exterior.

With Anastasia apparently taken care of, Alistair ran over towards the girallon cage, then cast a scorching ray spell at the yuan-ti abomination, sending the gouts of flame through the bars of the krenshar cage. The flame-blasts struck true, scorching the reptile across his broad chest and arms. At the same time, he picked up through his empathic link with Ambrose that the little grackle was not concerned about any other late arrivals to this little show; apparently the abomination traveled alone.

Harlan ran past Orchid (the invisible Ageratum saw him coming and stepped out of his way) and charged at the abomination, swinging his flaming Starblade for all he was worth. The sword bit deep into the abomination's body, sending scales flying and causing a gush of blood to spurt out of the wound. Ageratum ran up behind the yuan-ti and stabbed at his snakelike lower torso with her silver short sword, driving the blade in up to the hilt and then pulling it out, the blade coated in blood. With a hiss of pain, the yuan-ti crashed to the ground, its snake-tail twitching spasmodically as it lost consciousness.

Chaevaris, in the meantime, had grabbed her original arrow back up and was taking aim at the gray render, not wanting it to be able to join in the melee without immediate repercussions. It was good thing, too, because the gray-skinned brute looked around for its mistress, failed to spot her (it lacked the wherewithal to realize the bunny now at its feet was Anastasia in a new form), and roared in defiance - obviously, one of these strangers was responsible for his mistress's sudden disappearance. He charged forward at the nearest stranger - Orchid, as it turned out - and was struck in the side of the head with an elven arrow as he spanned the distance between them. But he didn't allow Chaevaris's arrow to slow him; rather, he bit at Orchid as he scooped her up in his claws and ripped them across her lithe body. Orchid screamed in pain, tried casting a spell to get herself out of its crushing grip and failed, and finally wildshaped into a garter snake to wriggle free. In snake form, she plopped to the ground and darted into one side and out of the adjacent side of the girallon cage, before either of the two multilimbed apes even noticed her presence.

Snake-Boy was now eagerly watching the combat with eyes blazing with intelligence; something had apparently triggered his awareness in a manner he hadn't experienced since receiving the head-wound immediately before his capture. A sudden hissing noise came from his cage, but none of the heroes was able to give him enough attention to realize it wasn't him making the hissing sound, it was coming from the metal pin piercing the yuan-ti's ankle, as the acid he generated from his skin started eating away at his chain....

Anastasia, in bunny form, hippity-hopped down the length of Snake-Boy's cage, over by the girallons, where she could get a good view of the heroes in the north-south corridor between the cages. She was once again behind the gray render, although whether this was intentional or not was not readily apparent. Alistair raised his metamagic rod and channeled another scorching ray spell through it, this time aiming at the gray render that had just caused Orchid so much pain. His flame-blasts struck true, causing the gray render to roar in pain. Immediately afterwards, Harlan charged back the way he'd come and brought the Starblade slicing into the render's thick hide. And Chaevaris, back to visibility after having fired her previous arrows, fired another arrow straight into the gray render's belly, where half of its length stuck out. Black blood oozed from the wound and the gray render's mouth, and it backed off a few steps, clearly nauseated by the gutshot wound.

Ageratum, during this time, was tending to one of the things she did best: making sure downed enemies didn't get back up. She could see the yuan-ti abomination breathing, but a quick slice of her blade across the reptile's throat soon put an end to that.

Snake-Boy, now freed from the chain around his ankle, walked over to the door to his cage and gave it a powerful kick, causing it to swing open wide. He gave a wide grin and stepped through the doorway for the first time in as far back as he could recall. He touched his wounded head, certain his head wound was why his memory was so fuzzy.

Then, without any warning, the baleful polymorph spell that had turned Anastasia into a bunny undid itself, and she rose up to a standing position in her original form. None of the heroes had any idea what had caused this sudden reverse-transformation, but Orchid didn't worry too much about it for the moment; rather, she cast a wall of thorns spell that completely engulfed the gray render, Anastasia, and Snake-Boy, leaving the area directly to the side of the gray render relatively open (so that Harlan would be able to rush in and attack - she didn't want the paladin prevented from reaching the gray render with his longsword by her spell). Alistair stepped in front of Chaevaris (with a polite, "Excuse me, Elfy!" in passing), and cast a lightning bolt at the gray render and Anastasia both, as they were conveniently lined up for him and unable to move due to the numerous thorns stabbing at them from all directions. The spell dropped the gray render instantly; it took even more damage on the way down as its body was stabbed and ripped by thorns.

And then Harlan ran up to the gray render, seeing the open space beside the beast for what it was: a means for him to apply his sword to the enemy. But as the gray render was already dead, he stepped over it (into the wall of thorns) and swung his sword at Anastasia, standing just behind her bodyguard's corpse. The sword-strike was enough to drop her as well.

And that left only Snake-Boy to deal with. The yuan-ti was pinned in place by the wall of thorns spell and knew it; he called for a truce immediately. "Release the thorns, and allow me to leave!" he called out. "I'm just a helpless victim to that crazy woman's schemes!"

"You," corrected Harlan, "are a yuan-ti, a member of a race that reproduces by transforming innocent, unwilling human victims into your own vile forms!"

"Uh, yes, yes, exactly! You said it yourself: I'm an innocent victim! I never wanted this for myself!"

"You were," the paladin agreed. "And it saddens me that this has happened to you. But what has been done cannot be undone - you are, and will be forevermore, a vile creature with a heart filled with evil. The best thing we can do for you is to free you--"

"Yes, yes, free me!"

"--from life as the thing you have become. I will leave it to the gods to determine your fate in the next life."

"Well, now, wait...." began Snake-Boy as he realized the paladin wasn't offering to free him in quite the way he had anticipated. But Harlan nodded over to Orchid (still in her garter snake form) to drop the wall of thorns spell so he could dispatch the wretched yuan-ti from this existence. But Alistair spoke up, saying, "Allow me," before sending a maximized magic missile spell through the twisting masses of thorns and nettles to strike Snake-Boy down dead.

"Hey, guys," said Ageratum, "all the snake-guy had on him was this scimitar and this composite longbow; they're quite nicely crafted, I'd say masterwork at the very least, but way too big for any of us to use." She dropped the items in question on the ground before her. "We can probably get some decent coin if we sell them to someone big enough to use them."

After some discussion, it was decided that they'd let the tiefling out of her cage. Yes, she registered as evil under Harlan's aura-scrutiny, but she was the offspring of a fiendish heritage and that couldn't really be blamed on her. She introduced herself as Tina and was able to fill in a few details the heroes were missing: Anastasia was an aranea, a type of shapeshifting spider-creature, which explained how she was able to "undo" the effects of the baleful polymorph spell. She had in fact bought Tina from a slaver and used enchantment magic to keep her in line ever since; her tale of rescuing Tina as a baby and raising her was all a line of rubbish. After further consideration, they decided to release the dragonne as well, after learning it was as intelligent as any human. (It only spoke Draconic, but Alistair knew a few words of that language - many arcane texts used that language, after all - and they determined it had been captured after it had hurt its wing, which had prevented it from flying away. It lived primarily by hunting deer in the forests and mountains, and after extracting a promise it wouldn't hunt intelligent races for food, a practice the dragonne claimed to find abhorrent, they opened its cage and allowed it to fly away.)

"What about the rest of these creatures?" Ageratum asked. "Are we going to free them, too?"

"We should," Orchid insisted.

"I would advise against it," Alistair countered. "These other creatures would not hesitate at all to devour any of us for their next meal. Were we to let them go free, they would be a menace to the populace of our small town."

"I'll tell you what," suggested Harlan. "Anastasia didn't transport and assemble all of these cages on her own. There must be workers nearby; 'roadies' I believe they're sometimes called. Let's go see if we can find them and see what they'd like to do from this point on."

Orchid sighed, but acknowledged the reasoning behind the paladin's suggestion. "Very well," she agreed.

- - -

Dan was a bit surprised at how this adventure went down, as that wasn't just a yuan-ti abomination he had tracking Snake-Boy - it was a yuan-ti abomination to whom he had added four or five cleric levels. And the poor sucker never got to stab, shoot, or cast a spell at any of the TPA! But Chaevaris did a lot of nonlethal damage with her sleep arrow, which meant we didn't have to deal as much physical damage as normal before he dropped into unconsciousness.

At the end of the game session, we all (finally!) got to level up to 12th level. Everybody just added a 12th level to their existing class; I don't think any of us is interested in multiclassing our PCs for this campaign.
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PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 12
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 12
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 12
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 12​

NPC Roster:
Orchid, elf druid 12​

Game Session Date: 24 April 2024

- - -

The five members of the Trained Professional Adventurers exited the Ghourmand Vale town council with a bad taste in their collective mouths. They'd been summoned to explain what all had gone on at Anastasia's Curiosities of the World and why they had felt it necessary to slay the proprietress who had made a deal with the council members to allow her traveling collection of oddities to be displayed before the Ghourmand Vale residents. It was quite apparent that some of the council members - Mackrel Slade in particular - wanted to try to find a way to fine the heroes, but fortunately wiser heads prevailed and after Harlan and Alistair had thoroughly explained the reasons they'd dealt with Anastasia as they had, the matter was dropped.

But another of their least-favorite people - Kasselban Picksmart, the leader of the local mine - approached them on an entirely different matter. "You lot, ye're th' ones what made th' agreement with th' stone giant clan what's providin' stone fer th' building projects goin' on here in th' Vale, right?" he asked. "Well, their latest shipment's nearly a week overdue. Ye'd not know anythin' about it, would ye?" Harlan explained they'd not heard anything about it until just now. "Well then," suggested the dwarf, "might be a good idear if'n ye were t' go an' check up on'm, see if they've mebbe got themselves in a bit o' trouble or whatnot."

"We'll be glad to check out the situation," the paladin assured the mine leader. The Karkaletch stone giant clan worked in a quarry a good two days' travel from Ghourmand Vale, over in the Lortmil Mountains. But the adventurers now had a means by which they could shorten the time it took to get there; the first time, they'd had to stop and make camp at the end of the day and continue on in the morning, but this time, when the sun went down, Chaevaris simply opened the door to their extradimensional dwelling and let the shield guardian Carruthers out, then moved the door onto the tower shield he carried, and the adventurers and their mounts were ushered inside the dwelling (all but Nova that is - Harlan simply dismissed his celestial pegasus back to the Upper Realms until needed again the next morning). Then, while they all relaxed inside the extradimensional space overnight, Carruthers continued on the road to the quarry, trudging all through the night without complaint. The next morning, the heroes got up, had their breakfast, dressed themselves in armor and clothing as appropriate, Alistair used a prestidigitation spell to clear up after the horses, and everyone was ushered back outside into the Material Plane again. Then Carruthers was returned to the interior of the dwelling, Chaevaris returned it to the amulet she wore, and they traveled on again on their steeds.

"We've only got another hour or so until we arrive at the quarry," Harlan declared, checking out the familiar landmarks. He mounted upon Nova and they flew about 40 feet up - above the treetops on either side of the road - while the others rode below them. Alistair had cast his traditional mage armor spell on himself and Ambrose (who sat perched upon his shoulder) and Orchid had likewise cast a longstrider spell upon herself even though she rode upon Harlan's warhorse Law. Shushitan, as always, trotted along beside his mistress.

As the group approached a "Y" in the road ahead, Harlan saw the rightmost fork was occupied by a quartet of stone giants - all male - headed their way. None of them were recognizable as members of the Karkaletch clan, and there were but three male adults left in that tribe after the deprivations they'd suffered under the red dragon and his hill giant minions from which the Trained Professional Adventurers had rescued the tribe. Out of habit, the paladin scanned their auras and was surprised to see the stain of evil covering them. He called down to his friends, "All four ping" - which he knew they'd know meant they'd shown up as evil to his temple-trained senses. As a result of Harlan's warning, Alistair cast a haste spell on the rest of the group and their mounts, Harlan and Nova being too far away to include in his spell.

The four giants all wore hide armor and carried greatclubs; two of them wore elaborate torcs, one made of gold and the other constructed of iron, with the latter sporting a large agate in the middle. The stone giant with the golden torc also wore a pair of ruby-studded bracers. As Nova flew over to the right, above the forest trees where it would be more difficult for the giants to reach him with their clubs (they didn't seem to have any ranged weapons on them), one giant approached the center of the "Y" and called out a few words in the Giant tongue. None of the heroes understood that language, but Ageratum wore a magical helm which translated the giant's words into the Common tongue so she could understand what he was saying - although it didn't provide her with an ability to reply in the same tongue as that which was spoken. "He says they're emissaries of the shrine of Rheelbo and they're looking for the stone giant quarry that's supposed to be somewhere around here," she translated for the benefit of the others. After a quick look at her companions, all of whom held distrustful expressions on their faces at these evil giants, the little halfling looked back at the speaker and shrugged her shoulders. None of them wanted to let these evil stone giants learn the whereabouts of the Karkaletch tribe, as none trusted they were on the up and up.

But the giant with the iron torc heard her words and stepped forward. "I speak your language," he said. "My name is Boulder Arlanur, and we wish to strike an alliance with the stone giants of the quarry." Silently, Orchid prepared the words to a spike stones spell, in case any of these giants tried anything. Chaevaris let her hands stray over to her quiver, ready to pluck an arrow into her bow; she had her attention focused upon the giant with the golden torc, as she assumed her was the leader. If he tried anything, she was ready to let him have it.

The other giants moved up, occupying the entire center of the road. The giant with the bracers and golden torc added, in the Common tongue, "I am Prince Raul Rurar, and you seem a bit nervous. Have no fears; you may travel with us if you like or leave us be."

"I think we'll be moving on," announced Harlan, sending Nova flying forward above the giants and above the fork to the left, which led to the quarry. With the others and their mounts under a haste spell, he knew they could easily outpace the giants and figured if he started them on their path the others would follow his lead. That way, they'd get to the quarry in plenty of time to give the Karkaletch clan ample warning before these evil stone giants showed up.

Alistair understood Harlan's plans immediately, and called out, "Good luck with your search!" to the giants as he steered his horse Zephyr off between the trees to the left of the stretch of road he was on. But as they were about to enter the field of trees, the golden-torced giant made a movement with his right hand to grab something from his left bracer and pull it back as if to throw it at the group. That was all Chaevaris had been waiting for; quick as a wink, she pulled an arrow from her quiver, loaded it into her magical longbow, and fired it at the giant's right hand. He cried out in pain and dropped the fireball bead he'd been holding, which fell to the ground at his feet and exploded in a ball of flame - which engulfed all four giants but reached none of the heroes. At the same time, Orchid cast her readied spell, causing sharp stones to rise up from the ground all around the four giants.

"I say!" declared Alistair, seeing the explosion of flame and deducing what had happened. Rather than follow towards Harlan and Nova, he reined his horse to a stop and cast a new spell he'd figured out: chain lightning, aiming it at the bead fumbler and arcing bolts of electricity off from him to the other three stone giants. In a way he was glad of the giant's attack, for it relieved him of any guilt that would come of attacking them first based just upon Harlan's aura reading. The sorcerer's spell elicited cries of pain as the lightning jumped from foe to foe.

One of the giants tossed a coiled rope at Orchid, still sitting astride Law. The rope struck the druid and then started uncoiling and wrapping itself around the elf's body, binding her arms tightly to her sides. It was a rope of entanglement, she realized, and until she could escape from its tightening grasp, casting any further spells would be somewhat difficult!

Ageratum spurred her pony Munson forward over by Alistair, pulling out her wand of burning hands and firing off a charge at the closest stone giant. The gout of flame seemed pretty feeble compared to the sorcerer's new spell, and the stone giant hardly seemed discomforted by the brief blast at all. The little halfling vowed she'd get some means of dealing a significant amount of damage from a distance one of these days, but in the meantime, every little bit helped take down their common foes.

Chaevaris had another arrow nocked and was taking careful aim at Prince Raul, while Boulder ran 20 feet forward towards Ageratum, howling in pain as he sliced up the soles of feet on the spike stones spell he was just now discovering was in place, but still managing to conk the halfling over the head with his greatclub. She was almost thrown from the saddle by the force of the blow but managed to stay mounted.

"Can somebody give me a hand?" called Orchid as her struggles to free herself from the rope of entanglement proved to be hopeless.

"I'll be right there!" promised Alistair, figuring he could touch her and then cast a dimension door spell that would teleport the two of them - but not the rope - over to the far side of the spike stones spell, where they could hurl spells at the giants from behind. In the meantime, the druid let the words to an insect plague come to the forefront of her mind, ready to cast it as soon as her arms and hands were free.

Shushitan ran forward and sank his teeth into the leg of the giant who'd tied up his mistress, dodging a swinging greatclub on the way there. He tried his best to trip the giant, but the size difference between them was too great. The stone giant kicked his leg free from the wolf's mouth and stepped forward to swing his massive club at Orchid, slicing up the bottoms of his feet in the process but clobbering the druid a good one as she struggled to get free.

Prince Raul charged at Alistair, ignoring the pain from his feet as he did so, and brought his greatclub down in an overhand swing at the sorcerer. Alistair felt the blow hit and slice through his robes and vest of charisma - but that wasn't right! How could a bludgeoning weapon cut so straight a line through his clothing and flesh (for a pool of the young nobleman's blood was now seeping from the wound)? Frowning in concentration, Alistair saw the four giants seem to melt in place and reassemble into their true countenances: Prince Raul and Boulder were not bald, greatclub-wielding stone giants but red-haired fire giants with greatswords, and the other two beside them were ogres. (The ogres, at least, held the same weapons as their illusions, and the giants' torcs and bracers were the same in both forms.) "We're fighting fire giants and ogres!" Alistair called out to his friends, to help them in seeing past the veil spell as he had just done.

Chaevaris released her arrow and sent it flying straight into Prince Raul's right eye, blinding him on that side. Harlan and Nova had turned around in mid-air by this point, and now the flying pegasus came crashing down into the nearest ogre, Frag. Harlan's sword-swing severed the head from Frag's neck, causing the headless torso to plop to the ground where he stood.

Alistair had Zephyr backing up from the attacking fire giant, and although he'd promised to go free Orchid, he felt he needed to deal with this more immediate threat first. Once out of range of the reach of the fire giant's sword, he cast a second chain lightning spell, targeting it directly into the fire giant prince's face. The blast slew him immediately, then arced off to strike Boulder and the second ogre, Grot. The secondary blast was enough to slay Grot as well, leaving Boulder as the sole remaining foe still standing. "Come to me, Law!" called Alistair, hoping to get Harlan's warhorse away from the range of the fire giant where he'd have a better chance of rescuing Orchid. The druid, in the meantime, had tried wildshaping into a dire bat, thinking the creature's naturally enhanced dexterity might give her the edge needed to escape on her own, but it was no use - the rope merely shifted along with her own body to imprison her new form as easily as it had her old one.

Ageratum activated her bracelet of invisibility, stood upon Munson's back, and leaped onto the branch of the nearest tree, using her spider climb ability from her cloak of arachnidia to ensure she remained steady as she ran down its length, hoping to get close enough to Boulder to be able to leap down upon him. Her silver short sword was out and ready to strike. But then Boulder suddenly grew the back half of an arrow-shaft in his left eye (or so it seemed), as Chaevaris shot at him from her own horse, Talkacha.

Crying tears of blood from his wounded eye, Boulder bent down to the corpse of his slain prince and plucked a fireball bead from the necklace of fireballs he wore wrapped around his bracer. Aiming as best as he could with his one remaining eye, he tossed it such that it landed on the road between Orchid and Alistair, catching their own mounts as well as Ambrose and Munson in the blast. Ageratum's pony collapsed into unconsciousness from the blast. "The ladies will repay you all in kind!" promised Boulder, in what would prove to be his final words, for almost immediately thereafter Nova and Harlan flew in to attack him with hooves and holy flaming burst longsword (after the paladin channeled a burst of Pelor's mighty smiting energy through the blade), and then Alistair dropped him with a simple magic missile spell. Just to be sure, Ageratum leaped down from her tree branch and landed on Boulder's back, stabbing him through the skull with her short sword. There was no doubt about it after that - he was quite dead.

Alistair finally dimension doored himself and Orchid a short distance away and the rope of entanglement flopped inert off the side of Law's saddle. Ageratum quickly claimed it as her own, figuring she could duplicate the ogre's trick and toss it at any future spellcasters that crossed them. She was also awarded the necklace of fireballs, which at this point had only three beads remaining. They stripped the fire giants of their torcs, bracers, hide armor, and weapons, tossing them inside their extradimensional dwelling. "After all," replied Harlan, "I'm sure the members of the Karkaletch clan can put them to good use."

"And maybe they can shave off a bit from the price of their next shipment," suggested Alistair. But a detect magic spell led to an unpleasant discovery: both torcs were magical in nature, but while the golden one gave off an aura of evocation magic - leading the sorcerer to believe it had a fire shield property in effect - the other one held an aura of divination. "Uh oh," he declared.

"What is it?" asked Chaevaris.

"The agate holds a fairly strong source of divination magic, Elfy."

"Okay, so?"

"It's the type often used by hags. This may very well be a hag's eye - it means it would allow a covey of hags the ability to scry through it and see everything that went on around it."

"So they would have seen who it was who slew their emissaries," deduced Orchid.

"That's right," agreed Alistair. "And a hag covey would likely have the ability to cast a veil spell upon their minions, to give them the appearance of stone giants."

"We'd better go warn the clan," Harlan suggested.

"Agreed," replied Alistair. But before we do...." He wrapped the iron torc with the magical agate in a heavy blanket before placing it inside their extradimensional dwelling. No sense in allowing the hags to see anything else of interest during their trip to the Karkaletch quarry!

- - -

Dan and Vicki's youngest son Joe bought his dad a bunch of Pathfinder maps for Christmas, and one of them is of an abandoned shrine. Dan says that's what we'll be using next adventure, so that's likely where the hag covey has set up camp.



PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 12
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 12
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 12
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 12​

NPC Roster:
Orchid, elf druid 12​

Game Session Date: 1 May 2024

- - -

The meeting with the Karkaletch stone giant clan had some surprises. First of all, the heroes hadn't expected to see so many dwarves working in the quarry among the stone giants, but in retrospect they recalled Kasselban griping about how many of his miners had been "stolen away" from him by promises of better wages. They recognized Krag Splitshriek and Blue Lichen, but hadn't anticipated seeing the giantess pregnant; by the looks of things, she likely had but a month or so before she'd be delivering another baby stone giant into the world (assuming, that is, that the giants' gestation period was similar to that of a human; none of the heroes felt it necessary to ask). And they were saddened to hear of the loss of the clan's oldest member, Calcitracia. Krag invited them inside their dwelling to hear the tales of their recent exploits.

After recounting their encounter with the two fire giants and the two ogres who were seeking out the Karkaletch quarry, Krag said there was an abandoned shrine over past the next valley, a good eight hours away by foot. "It could be that's this 'shrine of Rheelbo' the fire giant was talking about," he suggested.

Chaevaris projected the door to their extradimensional dwelling onto a nearby wall and entered inside to bring out the giant-sized armor and weapons they'd taken from their opponents on the road. "Careful with this one," she warned, indicating the torc bearing the agate they believed was a hag's-eye. It was wrapped in a blanket so the eye wouldn't be able to "see" anything once they brought it back out of the extradimensional space and into the Material Plane. With Krag's assistance, they pried the agate out of the torc and the stone giant handled it over to Harlan for safe keeping. He placed it into an empty belt pouch, where the hags would see nothing of import should they try scrying through it. The heroes opted to spend the day with the stone giant clan to bring them up to speed on events around Ghourmand Vale and to hear what all had been transpiring there at the quarry.

The next morning, though, the heroes were off to the abandoned shrine to see if it was where the hags associated with the giants were lairing. Krag thanked them again for all of the loot they'd turned over to the clan, and offered to build them a stone keep of their own in Ghourmand Vale, should they ever tire of living on the top floor of the Dark and Light Club. Harlan said they'd start working on some blueprints, then the five took off on their various mounts. It was noticeably colder this morning.

The trip to the shrine was pretty much uneventful, save for the last few miles, for a thick fog covered the mountain they approached. Ambrose volunteered to try to fly up through it and returned to inform Alistair it was just as thick a mile or so up. "Seems unnatural," opined Orchid. "Very likely a control weather spell in play."

"Can you counter it?" asked Ageratum.

"Not with the spells I have on hand today," the druid admitted. "It looks like we're stuck being able to only see about 20 feet around us at a time."

"Well, we should be nearly there," Harlan observed. "According to Krag, the road turns to a switchback that leads up to the level where the shrine stands. It might be best if we were to cast our preparatory spells." Orchid led off with her traditional longstrider spell and a series of barkskin spells upon Orchid, Nova, and herself. Alistair cast a mage armor spell upon himself and a Rary's telepathic bond spell joining all five of them together in a mental mind-link. He'd developed enough as a sorcerer to join all five heroes with but a single casting of the spell.

"Okay, here's my suggestion," said Orchid. "I don't like the idea of continuing on the switchback road in this fog, as the hags will likely have defenses set up. Instead, we should approach by the air - they probably won't expect that, especially in this fog. I'll wildshape into a dire bat; that'll allow be to sense objects around me at a much farther distance than vision alone will do. Alistair and Ageratum, you can ride on my back, while Chaevaris and Harlan ride Nova. As long as Nova follows directly behind me and moves where I move, he should be able to avoid flying into a cliff wall or anything."

"Do you have an air walk spell handy?" asked Chaevaris. "I'd like to be able to jump off Nova when the time is right without worrying about how high up I am." Orchid did have such a spell handy, and cast it upon her fellow elf. Then she cast two more spells upon the assembled group: mass bear's endurance and mass owl's wisdom, before changing her shape from that of a comely elf maiden to that of a leather-winged bat the size of a large horse. Chaevaris opened the door to their extradimensional dwelling and ushered their horses and Shushitan inside before returning the door to her amulet. Then she allowed Harlan to pull her up into the saddle behind him. Alistair, in the meantime, had climbed upon Orchid's shoulders, his legs straddling her neck and Ambrose sitting perched beside his master's neck. The young nobleman bent over and reached a hand out to help Ageratum climb up, but she waved him away. "I'll just spider climb onto her chest," the little halfling explained, activating her cloak of arachnida to do just that. Then Orchid stretched out her bat-wings and took flight, Nova following immediately behind.

In all of their planning, Alistair had forgotten a scheme he'd come up with: he didn't recall the details, but he was fairly certain that smashing a hag's-eye had a detrimental effect upon the hag covey it belonged to, and he'd been planning on having Carruthers smash it to oblivion right before they made their assault upon the shrine. But in all the excitement of riding a dire bat through thick fog, it had completely slipped his mind - and their shield guardian was inside the extradimensional dwelling with Shushitan and the mounts, out of range for the sorcerer to give him any instructions (not that it would have mattered in any case, for the hag's-eye was now out here in Harlan's belt pouch).

Orchid flew forward until she sensed a cliff-face directly ahead, then - after warning everyone what she was about to do over their shared mental link - flew straight up, keeping a good 15-foot distance from the cliff face. Harlan and Chaevaris clung tight onto Nova as the celestial pegasus followed in the dire bat's wake. After about 50 feet, the cliff ended on a level plateau and Orchid repositioned herself back to horizontal movement, staying about 15 feet above the surface of the ground. She used her blindsense to its fullest, concentrating on the radar images it gave her about her immediate surroundings. Ageratum slapped at her wrist, activating her bracelet of invisibility; now anyone getting close enough to the flying dire bat wouldn't see the upside-down halfling hanging from the bat's chest. Alistair, glad to no longer be flying straight up, took the opportunity to cast a shield spell upon himself and Ambrose, who remained perched upon his shoulder. (To be honest, the grackle was somewhat amused at the feeling of flying through the air without having to exert any effort on his own part.)

<Two beings over to the right!> Orchid reported over the telepathic bond. <Ogres, by their size and shape.>

<Low priority - ignore them for now,> suggested Harlan.

Orchid continued flying forward, dropping down to about 10 feet above the ground. <Got something ahead - an annis, likely, from the size!> Orchid called out, them immediately began casting an insect plague spell. There was the sudden buzzing of thousands of wings as a massive swarm of locusts manifested 10 feet in all directions around the annis - which, unknown to Orchid, also covered the position of a green hag on the far side of the annis, blocked from the druid's blindsense. But her enhanced hearing did pick up two distinct voices cursing the sudden presence of hungry locusts biting at their flesh.

From his perch upon Nova's back, Harlan cast his senses out into the fog ahead and could sense the presence of evil, likely the ogres and annis Orchid had called out. He was too far away to see them, and the ogres were too far away to see the heroes fly by, but they heard the flapping of mighty wings heading towards the shrine, and the first ogre, Hraag, began climbing up an embankment to follow the sounds of the wings. It sounded like they were headed for the annis, Gerty Gapgullet, and Hraag knew Gerty would be quick to punish him if he failed to protect her and the others in her covey.

The green hag, Velma Cuttlecrop, was nauseated by the locusts swarming all around her, several of them trying to get into her nostrils and mouth. "Pfaah!" she spat, staggering away from the massive swarm. "Beryl!" she cried. "Get out here - we need you!"

Chaevaris decided it was time to head out on her own and activated her ring of invisibility as she leapt off the side of Nova's back and stood in mid-air, buoyed by the air walk spell Orchid had cast upon her earlier. She stalked forward through the air, well aware that by not touching the ground she was all but guaranteed to move silently as she approached, her longbow out with an arrow nocked so she could shoot as soon as she got within visual range of an enemy. Sure enough, before too long Hraag came climbing up into view, and she pivoted his way, getting a lock onto his left eye.

With her blindsense still active, Orchid sensed a massive form enter within range, over by the annis. By its size and shape (and that of the massive rock it held in one hand), she surmised it was a fire giant, like the pair they had fought the previous day while on the road to the quarry. As the druid gave warning to her friends over the mental link, Surtur tossed his rock at a clump of the flying locusts, squishing flat those it hit and burning up others nearby when the rock exploded upon impact into a gout of flame. The annis, swatting locusts as she went, departed from the area where they were concentrated, glad to be able to take a breath without inhaling a handful of insects.

Then another figure moved into range of Orchid's blindsight: a horse the size of a small elephant. Her bat-senses were unable to pick up the light from its flaming mane and hooves, but she was able to hear the crackling of flames from that direction. The cauchemar headed over by the locusts, who by the magic of the spell which brought them forth stayed in the same general area as where they had first appeared. And Chaevaris, off on her own to the south, saw the second ogre, Iraag, trudge up the steep embankment out of the corner of her eye, but refused to break her concentration - or her aim - at Hraag's left eye, which was too good a target to pass up.

Beryl, a night hag, manifested from the Ethereal Plane at her green hag "sister's" call. Unable to see any further than the others in the fog, she cast a detect good spell and let her magically-enhanced senses tell her where there were individuals of such a nature nearby.

With all of the players seemingly on the field - Orchid and Chaevaris had been updating the others over the Rary's telepathic bond spell - Ageratum decided it was time to take action. Dropping from Orchid's underside, she flipped over in mid-air and landed like a cat on the ground, running over towards Hraag, stabbing at the surprised ogre with her magic short sword. Of all of the things he could have imagined coming out at him through the fog, a stab-happy halfling had been fairly low on his list. Nova veered over that way as well, allowing Harlan to lean over from the saddle and strike at Hraag with his holy flaming burst longsword, catching him in his broad chest and opening up a deep wound which began bleeding immediately. Then Nova delivered the final blow, a kick of a hoof just under the ogre's chin, and he collapsed backwards off the embankment, rolling to a stop at the bottom. His ragged breathing told he was still alive, but Ageratum vowed not for long, as she started sliding down the steep slope to go follow him and see to his permanent demise. Chaevaris just lowered her raised longbow and stalked through the air, seeking a different target for her arrow.

Alistair had no real idea of the exact location of any of his foes, as his human vision wasn't anywhere near as good as Orchid's blindsense while in dire bat form, so he let loose with a cone of cold spell in the general direction of "in front of him." After all, he'd heard there was a fire giant about, and he knew full well they were particularly susceptible to cold. His spell caught Surtur (as he had hoped), but also Iraag, the cauchemar, and - unfortunately - the locust swarms. He felt bad about "undoing" Orchid's spell, but the druid reminded him that unlike a summon monster swarm, these locusts were pretty much just going to stay in place and the hags caught in their midst had already departed.

Then Orchid flapped her bat-wings that much harder and gained elevation, casting her senses down below her so she could "see" as many of her foes in her radar-sense as possible. Only then did she cast a wall of thorns spell, which encompassed all but Beryl the night hag, who was too far away for the druid to tell she was there. The thorns pierced through armor, clothing, and flesh with equal abandon, causing a series of surprised shrieks, curses, and moans of pain.

Velma the green hag called something out in the Giant language, signaling to her covey-sisters her intentions; she had an idea of what spell they could cast to aid them, but it would take the three of them acting in harmony. But then Chaevaris got close enough to be able to see the cauchemar, its massive bulk wrapped in piercing thorns, and she rapidly aimed at its right eye, firing before it had a chance to try to move out of the way. The arrow hit the eye and split the orb down the middle, then buried itself halfway along the length of its shaft. With half an arrow protruding from its head, to Orchid's blindsense - which "saw" mostly in silhouette - it took on the appearance of a massive unicorn where before it had looked like an oversize horse. Chaevaris was now perfectly visible, but the only foes who could actually see her were imprisoned in a wall of thorns spell.

Surtur and Gerty were both tall enough that their heads stuck out over the top of the wall of thorns trapping the rest of their bodies. The fire giant pulled his right arm up above the thorns, and it was holding another of his flaming rocks. He tossed it at Orchid, but the throw went wide - Orchid was able to "see" it with her radar in time to swerve out of its path in midair. Gerty, in the meantime, was readying to join Velma in their shared spellcasting, just as soon as Beryl was able to mesh up with them.

With a frenzied whinny of pain, the cauchemar simply faded from view. As the creature was just a larger-than-normal nightmare, Chaevaris realized it had probably shunted its body out of the Material Plane and into the Ethereal, where it could move around unhampered by thorns until positioning itself where it wanted to re-enter the Material Plane once more. The archer reloaded her bow, ignoring the grunts Iraag made as he tried, without success, to extricate himself from the piercing thorns. By this time, Ageratum had made it to Hraag's unconscious form and dragged her sharp blade across his throat, slaying him instantly.

Nova flapped his wings furiously and flew up along the embankment, allowing Harlan to strike Iraag through the thorns, piercing the ogre's heart and killing him instantly, leaving him to collapse, still halfway standing up as he was propped in place by the entangling thorn-branches.

Alistair cast another cone of cold spell, catching Surtur, Velma, Gerty, and this time Beryl as well, for Orchid had flown closer and the sorcerer was still sitting upon her shoulders. The freezing spell slew none of its victims, but by this time the annis was on her last legs, barely able to remain on her feet and stay conscious. Orchid cast a summon swarm spell immediately thereafter, covering Velma and Gerty with thousands of hungry, biting spiders. The venom coursed through the Gerty's blood, weakening her even further with the arachnid poison.

"Cast with me!" called out Velma in desperation, not sure if Gerty was going to be able to pull her own weight in the ritual. That, the green hag realized, was the biggest problem with a covey: having to rely upon two others to get anything truly powerful done. She brushed a score of spiders from her face in irritation, angered that their individual small size made them all but immune to the sharp thorns that punished her for her every movement.

Chaevaris moved even closer to the wall of thorns spell and sent an arrow whizzing into Velma's right eye, killing her before she - and the rest of the covey - were able to pull off the ritual the green hag had placed all of her hopes upon turning the tide of this battle. As she died, she cursed their control weather spell that had blanketed the mountain in such thick fog - it had ended up hampering them as much as their attackers! Surtur tossed another flaming rock Chaevaris's way, but the archer merely stepped over it as it closed in on her, the air walk spell being one of her personal favorites.

With a gasp of effort, Gerty managed to force her way through about five feet of the thorns; freedom was now just out of reach! But the effort proved to be her undoing, for the numerous scratches and gashes she endured by trying to force her way out was too much for her battered body to handle, and she fell over, unconscious, her weight crushing the thorns before her and stabbing them even deeper into her flesh. Blood pooled on the ground below her, unseen by anyone else in the fog.

The cauchemar chose that moment to re-enter the Material Plane, positioning himself immediately behind Orchid and Alistair (and Ambrose, still perched upon his master's shoulder and keeping a look out behind them). The grackle squawked out a warning, alerting Nova, who chose to charge directly at the flaming-maned menace. The cauchemar kicked out at Nova as he approached and shorted out a cloud of smoke that encompassed both pegasus and rider, but Harlan didn't let that stop him from channeling Pelor's smiting energy through his blade and striking the black-skinned equine on the side of his neck. Ageratum started running their way, returning to invisibility as she ran with the tap of a hand upon her magic bracelet, then returning to the visible realm when she stabbed up at the unsuspecting cauchemar, driving her blade into the horse's belly and pulling it along its length for a good foot or more. The nimble halfling had just enough time to leap back and avoid being hit with the steaming intestines spilling from the cauchemar's belly, then leap back again as the creature's corpse collapsed on the ground where she'd just been standing.

Her plans of powerful spellcasting with her covey-sisters now dashed, Beryl threw a ray of enfeeblement spell at Chaevaris, but the elf archer dodged it with ease. Alistair fired off another cone of cold spell - why mess with what had worked so well thus far? - and this was enough to slay the fire giant where he stood, although he was big and bulky enough to crush the thorns beneath him completely as he toppled over. This left Beryl, the only one not imprisoned by thorns, as their only remaining foe, so Orchid dismissed her wall of thorns spell, which were now only acting as an obstacle to Ageratum, the only hero fighting from ground level. She also gave up concentrating on the spider swarm, realizing they weren't going to be of much use against the night hag, even as they crept her way as she was the closest living thing to their present location.

But then Chaevaris came running through the air, and she took a quick shot at Beryl's left eye and let fly with her arrow, piercing the orb and dropping the night hag dead. Ageratum went from body to body making sure everyone was dead (and dispatching those who needed a little help in leaving the mortal coil), while Orchid continued flying around until she finally located the shrine. It was a bit of a disappointment; whereas Alistair had envisioned something along the lines of a full-fledged temple, the shrine of Rheelbo turned out to be an open structure a mere 10 feet in diameter - basically, a gazebo with delusions of grandeur.

"That's it?" declared the young nobleman. "That's the fabled shrine of Rheelbo?"

"It is kind of underwhelming," Chaevaris admitted.

"Still, let's check it out!" replied Ageratum, and the others were soon glad she had done so, for she was able to find a hiding place where the hags stored their treasure: 4,000 pieces of gold stacked in the hollow of a magic shield made of steel, and of obvious masterwork quality. There were also a few potions of various types and an arcane scroll containing the mind fog spell, as Alistair ascertained with a read magic spell.

"Not bad," agreed Harlan as they stashed everything inside their extradimensional dwelling. "Now then, let's all get back down from this foggy mountain and back on the road, where we can all ride our mounts and actually see where we're going! It's eight hours back to the quarry and another two days of travel back to the Vale."

"We can start designing our keep on the way," Ageratum reminded the others. "I wouldn't mind a secure vault where we can stash our treasures."

"And enough bedrooms that we can each have our own room!" suggested Orchid. "Not that I'm not grateful for Chaevaris letting me share her quarters."

"And I would greatly appreciate it if it came with stables for the mounts," added Alistair. "I know it's safest for us to place the horses inside our extradimensional dwelling when we go off into battle without them, but I grow a little weary at the thought of constantly having to use prestidigitation spells to clean up after their...wastes."

"Good call," agreed Harlan.

- - -

The fog made this adventure - which took place on a Paizo fold-out map - completely different than any other we've had in the past. I'm just glad the fog ended up as bad for our foes as it was for us. And the decision for Orchid to wildshape into a dire bat, with blindsense, really ended up working in our favor.



PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 12​
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 12​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 12​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 12​

NPC Roster:
Orchid, elf druid 12​

Game Session Date: 8 May 2024

- - -

Carruthers walked all night down the road, headed back to Ghourmand Vale, holding in one hand a tower shield built for someone his impressive size. The shield guardian's shield served primarily as a place where the heroes could place the magic door from the interior of the amulet Chaevaris wore, so they could all sleep inside the extradimensional dwelling while their untiring shield guardian got them that much closer to home while they slept. The dwelling didn't really have a good place for the horses, so they bunked down in the main living area while the heroes all retreated to their bedrooms for the night. The next morning, after everyone awoke and get ready for the day, Alistair opened the door, popped his head back into the Material Plane, and ordered Carruthers to stop so they could get their mounts back out, Alistair could clean up after them with a prestidigitation spell, and they could mount back up. Then Carruthers was ordered inside the dwelling so Chaevaris could return the door to her amulet, and Carruthers was transported in the extradimensional space for the day while they resumed their ride back to Ghourmand Vale.

That had been the plan, and it worked just fine that first night after the heroes fought the hags on the mountain. Now over halfway home, Alistair cast his morning's mage armor spell upon himself and his grackle familiar Ambrose, and Orchid cast her traditional longstrider spell upon herself. They then continued on down the road, Harlan in the lead on his celestial pegasus Nova, after having summoning him from the Celestial Planes.

The day was pretty uneventful until that afternoon, when they found the dead body in the road ahead of them.

Orchid urged Law forward and leaped from the white horse, heading over to examine the dead body. It was a gnoll, its head smashed in by what looked to have been a single blow with incredible force, the skull crushed and deformed inward.

"Is the brain intact?" asked Chaevaris, from her mount Talkacha. She was concerned the gnoll might have been slain by an illithid, who were notorious for consuming the brains of intelligent creatures. Gnolls weren't particularly known for their intellectual brilliance, but they were intelligent enough to make a tasty snack to even the most discerning of mind flayers.

"Well, it's all squooshed," replied the elven druid, "but it's pretty much all here." She looked down upon the dead gnoll, laying in the dirt of the road upon his back. "No blood, though - that's kind of odd."

"I don't see any footprints, either," observed Harlan from Nova's broad back.

"Maybe he fell from the sky," suggested Ageratum, pulling her pony Munson to a stop. But Alistair pointed out the lack of any impact marks in the dirt beneath the gnoll. "If he fell, there would likely be signs of the impact," the sorcerer suggested.

"So, you're thinking...?" prompted Chaevaris.

"Trap," replied Alistair, looking all around. "Or at least bait," he modified.

Almost as if on cue, a voice came calling their way from the west. "Help...help!" came a frantic cry through the trees. Chaevaris shielded her hand over her brow, squinting in the sun. She was able to make out a hill that way, with a round hole in the side of it, near the ground. "It's coming from over there," she told the others, pointing, then sending Talkacha through the trees and up the slope to the hillside. The hill rose up for a hundred feet or more, but the hole was a mere 10 feet in diameter - and almost perfectly circular. It led to a tunnel burrowing into the hill, also 10 feet in diameter and sloping down at about a 20-degree angle.

"Purple worm?" suggested Ageratum as she rode Munson up alongside the mounted archer.

"Possibly," agreed Chaevaris, frowning in thought. As another round of "Help me, please, someone help!" came out of the tunnel, the archer activated her ring of invisibility and stepped down out of the saddle. She slapped Talkacha on his rump to get him to move away from the opening, just in case there was a monster hiding in there, trying to lure them in. The little halfling followed suit, activating her own bracelet of invisibility and taking up position on the other side of the hole from Chaevaris, while Munson stepped to the side and devoted his attention to a tasty bit of grass.

Harlan had Nova take flight, not too high up but enough to allow him to peer down the tunnel as the pegasus hovered in place. "It goes down for about 20 feet," the paladin reported. "Then there's a stone wall that it pierces, right in the middle. It looks like there are colored tiles just beyond, but I can't see very well that far in." He let Nova drop to the ground as Orchid and Alistair approached on their own mounts, the druid's faithful timber wolf companion Shushitan trotting along behind his mistress.

"Combat prep spells," Harlan ordered, ignoring the occasional "Help me!" cried from further down in the tunnel, for none of the heroes believed the cries were anything but the lure of a trap. But if whatever beast was in there could crush a gnoll's skull like that in one blow, and was actively calling forth travelers from the road, it was the paladin's sworn duty to take the vile creature out. While Chaevaris opened the extradimensional doorway on the side of the hill and swapped out the five mounts for Carruthers, Harlan cast the spells bull's strength and magic circle against evil upon himself and a bless spell upon the group. Alistair cast a haste spell and a Rary's telepathic bond spell on the group, a flame arrow spell on their assorted ammunition, a shield spell upon himself, and then brought forth Ogilvy with an unseen servant spell. Chaevaris handed the invisible force her bullseye lantern, powered by a stone with a permanent light spell cast upon it. Orchid cast a mass bear's endurance and a mass owl's wisdom spell on the group, following it up with an animal growth spell on Shushitan, barkskin spells on herself, Harlan, and her wolf, and a speak with animals spell on herself so she could communicate verbally with her best friend and be perfectly understood.

"Ready," Chaevaris announced as she put the magic doorway back into her amulet. Alistair directed Ambrose to stay outside and report if anyone or anything approached, and told Carruthers to come with him, as the archer shimmied up the side of the hill to reach the hole and pull herself inside. She could see the wall with the circular hole in it just ahead was in excellent condition other than its missing, circular piece, and she saw no rubble around the hole, indicating this was likely no purple worm tunnel, but probably the work of a disintegrate spell. Her feelings were further enhanced when she saw the vertical shaft leading straight up from the ceiling about 15 feet in, the vertical tunnel the same size and shape as the nearly-horizontal one in which she stood. <Guys?> she called over the link, so the creature still calling out, "Help me, please!" now and again wouldn't hear her. <I'm thinking this is the work of a beholder.>

<I say!"> declared Alistair, excited about his first actual encounter with a beholder. He'd read about such creatures, beginning as a child with Elfy and the Eye Tyrant.

Chaevaris poked her head through the hole in the wall and looked beyond, a task that became easier when Ogilvy approached and held the lantern up just behind her invisible form. The other side of the wall contained a 10-foot-wide corridor, tiled in alternating squares of white and black, and ending in a pair of brass doors at the far end. Then she backed up and looked up the vertical shaft, which appeared to rise about 15 feet up and then make a right angle turn to the side. Still invisible, she readied an arrow in her bow, lest anything pop out at them.

Ageratum, also still invisible, got a closer look at the tiled hallway and noted that section had a vaulted ceiling, rising some 15 feet at the top. She spider climbed up the vertical shaft, and could pinpoint the cries of "Help me!" - which were really starting to get annoying - as coming from down past the turn in the tunnel above her. As Harlan approached the pierced wall with his Starblade out, its flaming length providing illumination, the little halfling scrambled up the tunnel and peeked around the corner, seeing a second tunnel, this one circular in cross-section, paralleling the tiled passageway below, up and off to the side. Strange!

Orchid came up behind Harlan and, after discussing it silently over the link, cast an air walk spell on the paladin, allowing him to easily climb to the upper passageway beside Ageratum.

"Carruthers, if you would be so kind as to go open those doors?" asked Alistair nicely, and the shield guardian, recognizing it as a command by the one wearing his control amulet, stomped down the corridor to obey. The sorcerer had some concerns the hallway might be trapped and he figured the shield guardian would be likely to set off any trap that might be prepped and ready. But the construct made it to the end of the 70-foot-long passageway without incident, only to turn the doorknobs on the brass doors to no effect: they were locked. The sorcerer, who had been following a short distance behind Carruthers, had stopped when he saw another vertical tunnel in the vaulted ceiling overhead. Like the first one, it was circular in cross-section with a 10-foot diameter. He told the others of his discovery over the Rary's telepathic bond spell and theorized this passageway met up with the one Harlan and Ageratum were traversing. In the meantime, with Ogilvy still shining the lantern's beam up the first vertical shaft, Alistair cast a darkvision spell upon himself. Now he could see in the dark just as well as his shield guardian. And sure enough, the tunnel above him took a turn to the side, aimed in the same direction as the first one had done. Chaevaris still had her arrow nocked and ready to fire, following behind Alistair, still invisible, with Orchid close behind her.

On the upper level, the halfling excused herself and scrambled past Harlan, climbing back down to the lower tunnel when Alistair informed the group the doors were locked. She used the tunnel closest to the doors, proving they did indeed connect, as Alistair had surmised. Harlan, in the meantime, was concentrating on his paladin senses and was able to detect a source of evil coming from the end of the tunnel he was traversing - which ended when it opened into a much larger chamber, apparently the room on the other side of the locked brass doors. From the flickering light of his unsheathed sword, he saw the room beyond was about 30 feet tall - the tunnel he was in pierced it right about along the halfway height - and there was some sort of metal statue ahead, the figure of a large man in heavy armor, easily twice the paladin's own size.

"Help - it's getting bad!" called the voice from the other side of the brass doors. To keep it occupied, Alistair called back, "We're on our way! Stay where you are and we'll be with you shortly! But who are you? What's your name?"

"Hurry!" replied the voice, ignoring the sorcerer's questions. Ogilvy, no longer needed to shine a light up the first vertical tunnel, ambled over by Alistair. Orchid cast a spider climb spell on Chaevaris, so the archer could scamper up the vertical tunnel beside Harlan, where it sounded like she'd get a better shot at whatever was in the room beyond.

Once Ageratum was back onto the tiles - and could see the brass doors - she used her wand of knock to unlock and open them. Alistair had a scorching ray spell at the ready, eager to fire it off as soon as he saw the beholder he was certain hovered somewhere in the room beyond. As the doors swung into the chamber, those in the tiled-floor tunnel saw the central section of a room that would later prove to measure a good 85 feet wide. Directly ahead stood another set of metal doors, this pair made of brass with some sort of bas-relief carving covering it, along with some sort of phrase etched along the top. The handles were tied up in an intricate-looking knot with a length of rope, and there was a pair of metal statues flanking the doors - Harlan had already gotten a good look at the one to the left, and the one to the right seemed to be its identical twin. A nasty smell wafted towards Alistair, the overly sweet odor of decaying bodies.

But despite the doors below having been opened, Harlan was the first to enter the chamber from his higher tunnel - the one seemingly carved by a beholder's disintegrate ray. With his air walk spell intact, he stepped off midair into the chamber, discovering the following things all at once:
1. There was indeed a beholder at the other end of the chamber, hovering near the top of the ceiling around the corner from the now-open brass doors.​
2. The beholder had its central eye open and looking straight at him.​
3. He could no longer hear anyone talking over the Rary's telepathic bond spell.​
4. His air walk spell wasn't active after all, as he plummeted to the ground below with a crash, the flame from his Starblade no longer present.​

Harlan crashed to the floor with a clatter of armor and fell prone. Fortunately, he had rolled with the fall and wasn't seriously hurt, and being prone meant he was presenting a much smaller target than normal should the beholder decide to close its central anti-magic eye and send one or more of the rays from its other 10 eyes, each bulbous orb at the end of a flexible eyestalk, his way.

<Harlan's in there alone!> cried Orchid over the link, adding <We need to--> before she too dropped out of the shared telepathic communication link, since by then she had run into the chamber and inside the area of effect of the beholder's anti-magic ray. But she knew exactly what had happened, and while she readied an attack spell, she held off casting it until it closed its central eye (or, the elf thought with a smile, a certain archer took care of that little problem for all of them....). Shushitan followed at his mistress's side, seemingly oblivious to the fact he shrank back to his normal size once he too entered the field of anti-magic blanketing a good portion of the chamber. But his eyes caught the whiff of death and his keen eyes picked up the sight of a collapsed wall behind and beneath the beholder, with the scattered corpses of over a dozen gnoll corpses here and there, all within easy reach of the right-hand statue.

Carruthers and Alistair entered the chamber next, the sorcerer using the shield guardian as a non-living shield to keep him safe from any eye rays. Ogilvy advanced to just outside the open doorway, for Alistair knew he'd simply wink out if he got within the area of effect of the anti-magic ray. But the light from the archer's lantern spilled into the chamber, helping those without darkvision to see what was going on.

That worked perfectly to Chaevaris's benefit. Moving to the end of the upper tunnel which pierced its way into the larger chamber, she rapidly lined up her shot - realizing the beholder's central eye would neutralize the thundering aspect of her magic bow as well as Alistair's flame arrow spell - and let fly. The arrow crossed the length of the chamber and hit its mark, piercing the central eye and causing the beholder to cry out in pain - in the same voice as that of the "helpless victim" who'd tried to lure the heroes in to their doom.

With the anti-magic ray no longer in effect, Shushitan returned immediately to his larger size and Orchid and Alistair cast their readied spells. The beholder was struck by the druid's baleful polymorph spell but nonetheless managed to avoid being turned into a bunny in mid-air; it was less able to dodge the sorcerer's scorching ray spell, although only two of the three gouts of flame hit true. The beholder cried out in pain again, then asked, "Why are you attacking me? I was just trying to get someone in here to help me open the sealed door, so we can all share in the free wishes stored beyond!"

"Unlikely," replied Harlan, getting back to his feet and pinpointing the beholder as the source of the evil he'd detected earlier. His holy flaming burst longsword was blazing brightly again, although the beholder was a good 20 feet off the ground and well out the paladin's reach for the moment. But the beholder, seeing this bunch wasn't about to be taken in by its lies, fired off a trio of eye rays at three of the targets arrayed before it.

The first struck Orchid and tried tugging her over towards the doors, whose bas-relief showed a four-winged creature cutting off the bat wings of another vaguely humanoid shape. The caption along the top of the door mentioned something about "the devil slayer." But Orchid dug in her heels and fought off the beholder's telekinesis ray, although she now had a pretty good idea of how the dead gnoll outside had come to lie in a dirt road without leaving any footprints or blood in the area.

The second beam struck Alistair, who'd had to come out from behind Carruthers' shielding body to fire his scorching ray spell up at the eye tyrant. The beam hit the sorcerer straight in the chest, and he had only a moment to get out "I sa--" before his entire body was turned to solid stone. Worse yet, everything he wore was turned to stone as well - including the control amulet that allowed him to give Carruthers his orders. Without access to the amulet, none of the others would be able to tell the shield guardian what to do, so it stood there much like a statue itself, awaiting new instructions from its current master. A piercing squawk came from outside the chamber and down the tiled hallway as Ambrose, still on watch outside, suddenly felt the empathic link he shared with Alistair get instantly severed. He came flapping down the corridor in a panicked flight.

The third ray, the same disintegrate ray that had carved passageways through solid stone, struck Carruthers - but fortunately, the shield guardian had been well constructed of sturdy materials, and while the attack dealt the construct some harm, his automatic repair functions kicked in at once.

But then Ageratum entered the chamber. She'd made some preparation while outside in the hallway, plucking a red bead from her necklace of fireballs and placing it into her sling; there'd only been three of the beads remaining when she took it from the fire giant they'd slain on the way to the Karkaletch quarry, and she chose the one of middle power. Stepping into the room, still invisible as she swung her sling over her head to build up momentum, she suddenly popped into view when she released her bead and sent it flying across the room, up at the beholder - which it promptly missed by a large margin.

But the crafty halfling hadn't been aiming at the beholder - rather, she'd hurled her fireball bead at the wall directly behind it. It exploded upon impact, engulfing the beholder and killing it instantly. Surprisingly, it didn't fall to the ground upon death but remained floating in place; the halfling imagined it would start to sink once its decaying body released whatever gas kept it afloat when it was alive.

Harlan gave the entire room a sweep with his temple-enhanced senses, seeking out the aura of evil. "It's clean," he announced, as Ambrose flew into the chamber and landed upon the petrified shoulder of his master. Orchid cast a detect magic spell and declared the statue closest to the piles of dead gnolls radiated magic, as did the rope binding the bronze doors closed.

"So now what?" asked Ageratum, looking at the petrified form of the young nobleman and the dejected grackle perched upon his shoulder.

"Let's get him inside the house," suggested Harlan. "Chaevaris?" The archer activated her amulet and placed the door onto the nearest wall, then the others carefully tipped Alistair over and lugged him inside. They then had to do the same with Carruthers, who weighed far too much for them to handle themselves on their own; they ended up having to tie ropes around the shield guardian and have a couple of their mounts lug him inside.

While the others were thus engaged, Ageratum - who wouldn't have been all that useful in feats of strength in any case - checked out the area behind the collapsed wall. That, she learned, had been the gnoll lair and was now serving as the beholder's lair. She picked up several thousand gold coins and quite a bit of fancy artwork - who knew beholders could appreciate such works of art as paintings and sculptures? - and tossed them inside their extradimensional dwelling as well. Then, as the group was ready to mount back up and spend the rest of the day headed back towards Ghourmand Vale, Ageratum reminded them of the "secret extra use" of the thieves' coil she owned. "It's got one charge remaining," she prodded them. "We could get back to the Vale in no time at all, and start looking for a wizard who knows the spell that'll turn Alistair back into flesh."

"Good idea," agreed Harlan. "While we're at it, we can see if any of them know the teleport spell. Alistair told me the thieves' coil can be recharged with multiple castings of that spell."

"Why didn't he do it himself?" the halfling griped. "He knows how to teleport!"

"He knows the dimension door spell," Orchid corrected the halfling. "It's not as powerful as teleport."

"Figures," snorted the halfling to herself, mentally calculating how much of the beholder's treasure would have to go towards getting the thieves' coil recharged. Once Alistair was restored, she'd have to get on him about figuring out how to cast teleport himself. But in the meantime, she gathered the rope around everyone, pressed the hidden button, and said the command word that instantly sent them back to the street outside the Dark and Light Club, where they normally placed their extradimensional door on the upper level.

"We're back!" Ageratum called to the patrons drinking at the bar as she entered the drinking establishment. "Did you miss us?"

- - -

Alistair's sudden paralyzation actually ended being a good thing as far as session length went, because it was getting late and we had only encountered the first of three foes Dan had prepared for this adventure. So having to teleport back to Ghourmand Vale to get Alistair restored back to flesh forced the adventure into two parts; best of all, Dan's now already got the work done for him for next week's session. (He'll just have to come with a new name for the second part, hopefully something more creative than "A Gnoll in the Road 2.")
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